Photo via brendan.lally...away via Flickr Creative Commons
As habitat loss causes bird species to fly farther from the nest to forage, in turn forcing longer stretches of time between a mother's time incubating her eggs, researchers are finding the health of the species on the whole can decline. A study done on wood ducks shows that when mothers are forced to stay away from their nests longer to feed, even the slightest drop in temperature can cause problems in the development and vitality of the hatchlings. The findings could reveal dire news for birds who have to choose between a full stomach and strong young.
National Science Foundation reports that the researchers at Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences at Virginia Tech are studying incredibly subtle changes in nest temperature, incubating eggs at different temperatures with a total range of one degree Celsius at the most, to find out how this impacts the embryos. They've found that not only do the embryos develop more slowly, but when the ducklings hatch, they exhibit stunted growth and weaker immune systems.
One reseasercher explains that while the ducklings look healthy, "We see that they have changes in terms of endocrine function; in terms of stress hormones. We see changes in thermoregulatory capacity and locomotor performance. They swim slower than the same individuals from the same clutch. Swimming is a critical part of their early survival. They've got to avoid predators."
The study reveals how wide-reaching habitat loss can be to bird species beyond just the ducks studied. When nesting habits are disturbed, the entire species is put in peril.
"If their immune system isn't functioning as well as it needs to be and disease wipes through, then those guys aren't going to make it," says DuRant. "For many species that are breeding earlier in the year, those young are going to be exposed to colder temperatures so if they can't regulate their body temperature, then they're also going to die."
With one-third of the US's bird species already threatened, endangered or on the decline, and habitat disappearing left and right either from human development or global climate change impacts, conservation efforts even on the smallest scale can be huge for species we think are common...until they aren't anymore.
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More on the Status of Bird Species
Woodland Birds Losing Out to Farmland Birds as Australian Rivers Dry Up
9 Human Activities That Threaten Birds and Why We Need to Effect Change Now
17% of North American Birds Facing Rapid Decline