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A new study found that sparrows exposed to more numerous and harsh winter storms experience increased stress. The study is a forecast of the sparrows‘ expected response to climate change, which makes storms stronger and more frequent.
The study simulated the impact of winter storms and tested the sparrows’ results from increased storms. Birds exposed to one storm a week increased energy stores, but two storms per week reduced the birds‘ ability to add to or use existing energy reserves.
The study shows that birds can adapt to a single storm. But, they have a harder time adjusting to multiple storms in a week. Birds that experienced two storms in a week had lower fat stores, less weight gain, and lower energy reserves.
Both authors believe the findings are troubling for long term adaptability and survival of birds. Co-author Scott MacDougall-Shackleton, director of the Advanced Facility for Avian Research (AFAR) at Western, said of the changes, “The birds remained healthy in the second study, but they couldn’t put on the fat and body mass—they couldn’t rely on their ‘insurance policy’ of extra fat. In the wild, if a bird isn’t able to put on that extra storage, they wouldn’t be able to recharge and they’re at higher risk of starvation.”
Andrea Boyer, Ph.D. student, and co-author added, “We’re throwing these challenges at them and then it becomes a question of whether they can cope, whether they can adapt.”
The study is yet another example of climate change’s expected effects on wildlife. “A lot of people think about Climate change as temperature change and sea levels rising,” MacDougall-Shackleton said, “but what many people don’t think about as often is the increasing frequency and intensity of storms, which could have an effect on wildlife.
Read more about birds in One Green Planet, including scientists studying birds relationship to climate change, the Audubon Society’s warning, bird-safe glass in New York City, bird populations at risk, and birds ingesting plastic.
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