To great environmental peril, our birds lose their fins

Written by Staff Writer Written by Staff Writer Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology (MPI) in Germany recently discovered how climate change is shaping bird body shapes. Originally studies focused on the…

To great environmental peril, our birds lose their fins

Written by Staff Writer

Written by Staff Writer

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology (MPI) in Germany recently discovered how climate change is shaping bird body shapes.

Originally studies focused on the results of climate change on birds living at the International Space Station . But scientists looking at the effects of climate change on bird populations throughout the world have revealed some surprising results.

Researchers examined 71 bird species from within subspecies, and compared them to the same species as measured more than 50 years ago.

The evolution of bird body shapes

For example, the researchers found that the American crow had an elongated body shape developed over the last half century. The species’ shape had already evolved, giving it a very different profile to that of the species it looked more closely.

The researchers argue that this change was caused by changes in climate, and that their study shows how climate change can affect a species from a completely different continent.

Scientists have now challenged the dating of this bird species as many subspecies, yet the researchers say that this change can be demonstrated with modern measurements.

Photo credit: Giovanni Pinto Roma

For example, a small number of birds have an elongated body shape and that some species have a shorter general length, giving it a “signature” in relation to other species. The evolution of these characteristics can be explained by both factors.

“Maybe the reason for this transformation is that crows were particularly impacted by cold, cyclical periods such as sudden freezes and hot summers which have forced them to adapt during different periods of their life,” said Roberto Visini, Director of the MPI.

Songbird extinctions

Roma, the president of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Specialist Group on Climate Change and Species at its 28th Conference in Germany, says that the IUCN believes that the climate change we are seeing now has already had significant impacts on wild birds.

“By the middle of the century, it is very likely that bird populations will suffer extremely high extinctions. This is already being felt in the African migratory birds. These birds used to spend their entire lives in East Africa, but they are now beginning to fly westward and lose their main habitats.”

IUCN’s set of five statements goes on to say that:

“In tropical areas most bird species are already facing rapid and dramatic change, driven mainly by climate change. This reflects a striking decline in the range and nesting success of several of the most prominent conservation birds, which have to cope with changing climate conditions.

Emerging data shows that this threshold of biodiversity change can be crossed much more rapidly than originally expected. This may in some cases lead to abrupt and dramatic changes in the composition of nature, in particular in bird species that rely on natural ecosystems as their home.”

Roma says that the IUCN is also concerned about the effects that climate change will have on endemic animals which are already at risk,

“To what extent we know what is going to happen — it is impossible to say with any certainty because we do not know the full picture. However, all of us feel a particular alarm over the dire consequences of climate change on threatened species of sharks, turtles, phytoplankton and other marine creatures. The whole ecological world is at risk from climate change.”

The IUCN currently has a goal to ensure the survival of over 7,000 of its most globally sensitive species by 2030. Roma says that climate change already represents a significant obstacle to these objectives.

“We are already seeing some big changes happening. Over half of all tropical bird species will already be seen as ‘possibly endangered’ by the middle of the century. There is really no longer any reason to think that things will remain the same.”

Roma says that the research that is currently underway, specifically on the climate impacts on the planet’s wildlife and plants, is essential to protect the future of planet Earth.

“Now we must all work together to solve this problem. The current situation is unsustainable and it is urgent that we redouble our efforts to reduce our planet’s carbon emissions.”

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