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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.

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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.

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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

Conflict and Climate Change Largely Responsible for Rising Global Hunger, Finds Study

Climate change it says is worsening the ability of people to get enough to eat

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global hunger
Somalis fleeing hunger in their drought-stricken nation walk along the main road leading from the Somalian border to the refugee camps around Dadaab, Kenya. VOA

A new report by SIPRI, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, finds conflict and climate change are largely responsible for rising global hunger.

More than 800 million people around the world are going hungry. SIPRI reports 60% are in conflict-affected countries. It says political instability and conflict-related displacement generate food crises.

The Stockholm research institute says food is often inaccessible to people caught in conflict. It says limited supplies of these commodities cause prices to spiral, making food largely unaffordable.

hunger, climate change
The report finds nearly 11 million people, or more than 43 percent of the population, are undernourished and in a perpetual state of hunger. Pixabay

Climate change it says is worsening the ability of people to get enough to eat. It says hunger is growing as crops and livelihoods in impoverished countries are wiped out by extreme flooding and drought.

The U.N.’s World Food Program reports Yemen suffered the worst food crisis last year, followed in order of severity by DR Congo, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Syria, Sudan, South Sudan and northern Nigeria. WFP spokesman, Herve Verhoosel says these eight countries account for two-thirds of all people facing acute hunger.

“Even in conflict-affected areas with limited access such as South Sudan and Yemen, when we can do our job safely and have consistent access to people in need, we can prevent the worst forms of hunger,” he said. “We only see famine now when our staff are not able to reach the food-insecure people due to insecurity or where our access is blocked.”

climate change, hunger
Climate change it says is worsening the ability of people to get enough to eat. Pixabay

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Verhoosel says more than 113 million people in 53 countries suffer from acute hunger and are in urgent need of food, nutrition and livelihood assistance. He notes conflict and insecurity are the main drivers of hunger in 21 of these countries.

WFP is the largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger. Each year it provides food assistance to nearly 90 million people in areas affected by conflict and natural disasters. (VOA)