Biodiversity for the birds

ScienceDaily | 10/23/2018 | Staff
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In the first study of its kind, University of Delaware researchers Doug Tallamy and Desirée Narango teamed up with Peter Marra, director of the of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC) to investigate the link between non-native plants and birds' population growth in these landscapes. The research was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).

"This is the first time that the breeding success of a bird has been directly tied to landscape decisions that homeowners make. Quite simply, humans are changing the vegetation of North America with these non-native species," said Tallamy, professor in the UD Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology.

United - States - Species - One-third - Birds

In the United States, 432 species -- more than one-third of birds -- are insectivorous and, thus, could be harmed by declines in food availability and at risk of local extinction in urban and suburban areas.

"Most homeowners think plants are just decorations with no thought to the ecological roles plants must play in our landscapes," Tallamy said. "So they go to the nursery and buy the prettiest plant they can find. The nursery industry has pushed plants from someplace else for a century because they are unusual and have market value."

Washington - DC - Virginia - Maryland - Homeowners

In Washington, D.C., northern Virginia, and suburban Maryland, more than 200 homeowners, all citizen scientists within SMBC's Neighborhood Nestwatch program, allowed the team to come into their personal yards and investigate plants, insects and birds. The researchers directed the effort, examining the impact of non-native plants on breeding birds like the Carolina chickadee, a songbird that lives in the eastern and southeastern U.S., and an ideal representative for insectivorous bird species.

Most plant-eating insects can only eat species with which they have coevolved. Non-native plants have defensive chemicals in their tissues, which ward off indigenous insects. The indigenous insects cannot eat...
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