From: Janet Lathrop
Published February 13, 2017 04:13 PM

Desert Songbirds May Face Expanding Threat of Lethal Dehydration

AMHERST, Mass – A new study of songbird dehydration and survival risk during heat waves in the United States desert Southwest suggests that some birds are at risk of lethal dehydration and mass die-offs when water is scarce, and the risk is expected to increase as climate change advances.  

Using physiological data, hourly temperature maps and modeling, first author Tom Albright at the University of Nevada, Reno, with Blair Wolf at the University of New Mexico and Alexander Gerson at the University of Massachusetts Amherst investigated how rates of evaporative water loss varied in five bird species with varied body mass. They mapped potential effects of current and future heat waves on lethal dehydration risk for songbirds in the Southwest and how rapidly this can occur in each species. Details are in today’s issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Gerson brings expertise in avian heat tolerance physiology to these studies.One question he and colleagues addressed is whether some birds are more susceptible and at risk from heat exposure than others. They looked at the lesser goldfinch, house finch, cactus wren, Abert’s towhee and curve-billed thrasher, representing “a wide range of body sizes,” Gerson notes. They found the small species lose water faster than large, making them particularly susceptible to lethal dehydration.

Read more at University of Massachusetts

Image Credits: University of Massachusetts

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