Wednesday March 20, 2019
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Next On Its Way To Extinction: Mountain Birds

Birds adapted to live within narrow temperature bands — in regions without wide seasonal variations — may be particularly vulnerable to climate change

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Birds
Handout picture released in Lima by the Peruvian Commission for the Promotion of Export and Tourism (PROMPERU), showing a hummingbird spotted during the Birding Rally Challenge taking place in the northern Peruvian mountain jungle close to the city of Tarapoto on June 12, 2013. VOA

A meticulous re-creation of a three-decade-old study of birds on a mountainside in Peru has given scientists a rare chance to prove how the changing climate is pushing species out of the places they are best adapted to.

Surveys of more than 400 species of birds in 1985 and then in 2017 have found that populations of almost all had declined, as many as eight had disappeared completely, and nearly all had moved to higher elevations in what scientists call “an escalator to extinction.”

“Once you move up as far as you can go, there’s nowhere else left,” said John W. Fitzpatrick, a study author and director of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. “On this particular mountain, some ridgetop bird populations were literally wiped out.”

It’s not certain whether the birds shifted ranges because of temperature changes, or indirect impacts, such as shifts in the ranges of insects or seeds that they feed on.

bird
A gull flies with the “Dents du Midi” multi-summited mountain as background on July 3, 2016 in Montreux, Switzerland. VOA

These findings, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, confirm what biologists had long suspected, but had few opportunities to confirm. The existence of a 1985 survey of birds on the same mountain gave scientists a rare and useful baseline.

Past research has documented habitats of birds and other species moving up in elevation or latitude in response to warming temperatures. But Mark Urban, director of the Center of Biological Risk at the University of Connecticut, who was not involved in the study said it was the first to prove what climate change models predicted: that rising temperatures will lead to local extinctions.

“A study like this where you have historical data you can go back to and compare is very rare,” said Urban. “As long as the species can disperse, you will see species marching up the mountain, until that escalator becomes a stairway to heaven.”

In 1985, Fitzpatrick established a basecamp alongside a river running down a mountain slope in southeastern Peru, aiming to catalog the habitat ranges of tropical bird species that lived there. His team spent several weeks trekking up and down the Cerro de Pantiacolla, using fine nets called mist nets to catch and release birds, and keeping detailed journals of birds they caught, spotted or heard chirping in the forests.

birds
A bird flies past the Humayun’s Tomb shrouded in smog in New Delhi, India. VOA

Two years ago, Fitzpatrick passed his journals, photos and other records to Benjamin Freeman, a postdoctoral fellow at the Biodiversity Research Centre at the University of British Columbia. Freeman, who has been researching tropical birds for more than a decade, set out to recreate the journey in August and September of 2017. Using old photos of mountain views, his team located the same basecamp.

Freeman largely recreated Fitzpatrick’s path and methodology to see what had happened in the intervening years, a period when average mean temperatures on the mountain rose 0.76 degrees Fahrenheit (0.42 degrees Celsius). Because the mountain lies at the edge of a national park, the area hadn’t been disturbed.

In addition to unfurling 40-foot (12-meter) mist nets on the slopes, Freeman’s team placed 20 microphone boxes on the mountain to record the chirps of birds that might not easily be seen.

“We found that the bird communities were moving up the slope to reach the climate conditions to which they were originally adapted,” said Freeman, the lead author of the study. Near the top of the mountain the bird species moved higher by 321 feet (98 meters), on average.

Birds
It’s not certain whether the birds shifted ranges because of temperature changes

“We think temperature is the master-switch in explaining why species live where they do on mountain slopes,” said Freeman. “A huge majority of species in our study were doing the same thing.”

Also Read: 60 Percent Wildlife Lost In Just Four Decades: Report

Birds adapted to live within narrow temperature bands — in regions without wide seasonal variations — may be particularly vulnerable to climate change, Fitzpatrick said.

“We should expect that what’s happening on this mountaintop is happening more generally in the Andes, and other tropical mountain ranges,” he said. (VOA)

Next Story

Students Worldwide Skip School to Protest Government’s Failure against Global Warming

They're angry at their elders, and they're not taking it sitting down

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global warming, climate change
Students from different institutions hold placards and banners as they participate in a climate protest in New Delhi, India, March 15, 2019. VOA

They’re angry at their elders, and they’re not taking it sitting down.

Students worldwide are skipping class Friday to take to the streets to protest their governments’ failure to take sufficient action against global warming.

The coordinated “school strikes,” being held from the South Pacific to the edge of the Arctic Circle, were inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who began holding solitary demonstrations outside the Swedish parliament last year.

Since then, the weekly protests have snowballed from a handful of cities to hundreds, driven by social media-savvy students and dramatic headlines about the impact of climate change.

climate change, global warming
Students attend a protest ralley of the “Friday For Future Movement” in Berlin, Germany, March 15, 2019. VOA

Thunberg, who was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, was cheered for her blunt message to leaders at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland this year, when she told them: “I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day.”

Friday’s rallies are expected to be one of the biggest international actions yet. Protests were under way or planned in cities in more than 100 countries, including Hong Kong; New Delhi; Wellington, New Zealand; and Oulo, Finland.

In Berlin some 10,000 protesters, most of them young students, gathered in a downtown square, waving signs with slogans such as “There is no planet B” and “Climate Protection Report Card: F” before a march through the capital’s government quarter. The march was to end with a demonstration outside Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office.

Organizer Carla Reemtsma, a 20-year-old university student, said social media had been key in reaching people directly to coordinate the massive protests in so many different locations, noting that she was in 50 WhatsApp groups and fielding some 30,000 messages a day.

“It’s really important that people are getting together all over the world, because it’s affecting us all,” she said.

Critics, supporters

Some politicians have criticized the students, suggesting they should be spending their time in school, not on the streets.

“One can’t expect children and young people to see all of the global connections, what’s technically reasonable and economically possible,” said the head of Germany’s pro-business Free Democratic Party, Christian Lindner. “That’s a matter for professionals.”

climate change, global warming
Students hold signs during a rally for global climate strike for future in Seoul, South Korea, March 15, 2019. VOA

But scientists have backed the protests, with thousands signing petitions in support of the students in Britain, Finland and Germany.

“We are the professionals and we’re saying the young generation is right,” said Volker Quaschning, a professor of engineering at Berlin’s University of Applied Sciences.

“We should be incredibly grateful and appreciative of their bravery,” said Quaschning, one of more than 23,000 German-speaking scientists to sign a letter of support this week. “Because in a sense, it’s incredibly brave not to go to school for once.”

Scientists have warned for decades that current levels of greenhouse gas emissions are unsustainable, so far with little effect. In 2015, world leaders agreed in Paris to a goal of keeping the Earth’s global temperature rise by the end of the century well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

Yet at present, the world is on track for an increase of 4 degrees Celsius, which experts say would have far-reaching consequences for life on the planet.

“As a doctor, I can say it makes a big difference whether you’ve got a fever of 41 degrees Celsius (105.8 Fahrenheit) or 43 C (109.4 F),” said Eckart von Hirschhausen, a German scientist who signed the call supporting striking students. “One of those is compatible with life, the other isn’t.”

Other action

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have publicly welcomed the student protests, even as their policies have been criticized as too limited by environmental activists.

In France, activist groups launched legal action this week for failing to do enough to fight climate change, citing a similar successful effort in the Netherlands.

climate change, global warming
Hundreds of schoolchildren take part in a climate protest in Hong Kong, March 15, 2019. VOA

In Germany, environmental groups and experts have attacked government plans to continue using coal and natural gas for decades to come. Activists say that countries like Germany should fully “decarbonize” by 2040, giving less-advanced nations a bit more time to wean themselves off fossil fuels while still meeting the Paris goal globally.

Other changes needed to curb greenhouse gas emissions include ramping up renewable energy production, reining in over-consumption culture now spreading beyond the industrialized West and changing diets, experts say.

“The fight against climate change is going to be uncomfortable, in parts, and we need to have a society-wide discussion about this,” said Quaschning.

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That conversation is likely to get louder, with several U.S. presidential hopefuls planning to campaign on climate change.

Luisa Neubauer, one of the Berlin group organizing Fridays for Future, said politicians should take note of the young.

“For the European elections in May, we’re urging everyone to think about whether they want to give their vote to a party that doesn’t have a plan for the future and the climate,” she said. (VOA)