Meerkats (Suricata suricatta) living in the Kalahari Desert must cope with extreme variations in temperature and rainfall throughout the year. Writing in Science, Maria Paniw and colleagues report that these variations alter the animals’ body mass, and that body-mass changes have different effects on meerkat populations depending on when they happen (M. Paniw et al. Science 363, 631–635; 2019).
For example, low rainfall just before the breeding season starts leads to food scarcity, low body mass, low reproductive success and an increased risk of population extinction. But a warm environment during the non-breeding season can increase body mass and lead to more efficient reproduction, compensating for previous losses in population size.
The findings are of broad interest because species living in extreme seasonal environments, such as meerkats, give us a glimpse of the ecological effects of future changes in Earth’s climate.
Nature 566, 190 (2019)