General Animal Responses

Climate change deals with variations both short- and long-term. Those variations can come in many forms involving both temporal and spatial variations, ranging from the number and severity of acute, dynamic events (such as heat waves) impacting localized microclimates, to long-term chronic (decadal) global changes that may result from changes in atmospheric constituents. This broad perspective is taken here as we consider the impact of thermal environmental challenges associated with climate change on adaptive responses of animals and the management of livestock production systems. Thus, the focus is on how elements of acute and chronic climate change are linked to the ability of the animals to cope with environmental challenges, and the limits of that ability are discussed in the context of sustainable management practices.

Responses of animals vary according to the type of thermal challenge: short-term adaptive changes in behavioral, physiological, and immunological functions (survival-oriented) are the initial responses to acute events, while longer-term challenges impact performance-oriented responses. Within limits delineated by thresholds for disrupted behavior and maladapted physiology and immune functions, domestic animals can cope with many acute thermal challenges through acclimatization to minimize adverse effects and compensation for reduced performance during moderate environmental challenges. These responses to environmental challenges are illustrated in Fig. 7.5 (Hahn 1999, as adapted from Hahn and Morrow-Tesch 1993). The interrelationship between potential environmental challenges and the dynamic response of an animal is apparent. As an aside, it is important to recognize that while management strategies will likely alter some of the biological and adaptive responses, the laws of physics will still apply - heat production and heat losses must balance within the limits of heat storage capacity of the animals.

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