How two related chipmunk species respond to climate change : Short Wave Kwasi Wrensford studies two related species: the Alpine chipmunk and the Lodgepole chipmunk. The two have very different ways of coping with climate change. In this episode, Kwasi explains to host Emily Kwong how these squirrelly critters typify two important evolutionary strategies, and why they could shed light on what's in store for other creatures all over the globe.

Climate change stresses out these chipmunks. Why are their cousins so chill?

Climate change stresses out these chipmunks. Why are their cousins so chill?

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A lodgepole chipmunk (Tamias speciosus) on a rock. Ketki Samel hide caption

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Ketki Samel

A lodgepole chipmunk (Tamias speciosus) on a rock.

Ketki Samel

Kwasi Wrensford describes the genus Neotamius as "elfin": skittish little squirrel-cousins with angular faces, pointy ears and narrow, furry tails. Kwasi studies two species in particular that make their homes in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California: the alpine chipmunk and the lodgepole chipmunk.

With the climate warming and high-altitude species especially vulnerable, the two species have developed different ways of coping. What does this natural experiment tell us about animals and climate?

In this episode, Kwasi chats with host Emily Kwong about how these squirrelly critters typify two important ecological strategies. The alpine chipmunk is an ecological specialist, having climbed higher in search of the cooler habitat they are used to. The lodgepole chipmunk, on the other hand, is an ecological generalist. It's less stressed and continues to thrive in its historic habitat, which suggests it has developed resilience to changing conditions.

Plus, Kwasi says the chipmunks might provide broader insights into what types of species are more vulnerable to climate change. At least in this case, seems to be the less specialized chipmunks.

But Kwasi says that the knowledge that some species are able to adapt and cope with at least the current levels of climate change gives him some solace. "It kind of reminds me that, you know, if you want to be resilient to the unpredictable, you need to have a broad and diverse tool kit."

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This encore episode was produced by Berly McCoy, edited by Gabriel Spitzer and fact-checked by Abe Levine. The audio engineer was Josh Newell.