The fabled use of canaries in coal mines as an early warning of carbon monoxide stemmed from the birds’ extreme sensitivity to toxic conditions compared to humans.
The fabled use of canaries in coal mines as an early warning of carbon monoxide stemmed from the birds’ extreme sensitivity to toxic conditions compared to humans. In that vein, some avian species can indicate environmental distress brought on by overdevelopment, habitat loss and rising global temperatures before an ecosystem has collapsed. Not all bird species, however, respond to environmental disturbances equally.
Researchers from Princeton University affiliated with the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI) set out to help determine the characteristics that make certain species more sensitive to environmental pressures.
A bird species’ exposure to seasonal temperature changes may be one factor in whether it can better withstand environmental disruption, the researchers recently reported in the journal Ecography. The study focused on how temperature changes and the conversion of forests to agricultural land affected 135 bird species in the Himalayas. Species living in the seasonal western Himalayas adapted to deforestation more readily than birds native to the tropical eastern Himalayas.
Results such as these could help conservationists determine where to focus their efforts, said co-author Paul Elsen, a climate adaptation scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society who received his Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology from Princeton in 2015. The research builds on work Elsen conducted for his dissertation with support from a Walbridge Fund Graduate Award from PEI.
Read more at Princeton University
Image: Princeton University research based in PEI is among the first to identify traits that make certain species more vulnerable than others to human impacts on the environment. The study found that the ability of a Himalayan bird species such as the rufous-capped babbler (above) to adapt to seasonal temperature changes may be one factor in whether it can withstand environmental changes such as deforestation. (Credit: Photo by Umesh Srinivasan, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs)