Long-Term Memory Gives Elephants an Edge Against Climate Change

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It turns out there's a lot of truth to that old saying, "Mom knows best". A new study published in Biology Letters hypothesizes that old female elephants' redoubtable memory may have helped them steer their family groups toward food and safety during past incidents of drought and famine. This, the authors argue, may give them a crucial edge over other species during future extreme climate change-induced events. Charles Foley and Nathalie Pettorelli of the Wildlife Conservation Society and Zoological Society of London, respectively, studied patterns of calf mortality during 1993, when Tanzania's Tarangire National Park was struck by the region's worst drought in 35 years.

Of the three elephant groups they examined, they noticed that the two that left the park, whose matriarchs were aged 38 and 45, suffered low mortality rates. The group which stayed, whose matriarch was only aged 33, bore 63% of the year's deaths.

While the age connection was not immediately evident, the authors took a closer look at the two matriarchs' life history and found that both had survived an earlier drought. Tellingly, none of the animals in the group that stayed in the park were old enough to remember this drought.

Foley and Pettorelli believe more research is needed to understand how these and other animal populations react to droughts and other natural disasters. Such studies could yield crucial insights that would help scientists make wildlife conservation and management more effective -- especially as periods of extreme weather become more common. Conservationists could, for example, hone in on the matriarchs and other organisms that play important roles in protecting their groups to get the most bang for their buck.

Via ::Mongabay: Long-term memory may help elephants survive climate change (news website)

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