Study helps pinpoint what makes species vulnerable to environmental change | 5/9/2019 | Staff
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The fabled use of canaries in coal mines as an early warning of carbon monoxide stemmed from the birds' extreme sensitivity to toxic conditions compared to humans.

In that vein, some avian species can indicate environmental distress brought on by overdevelopment, habitat loss and rising global temperatures before an ecosystem has collapsed. Not all bird species, however, respond to environmental disturbances equally.

Researchers - Princeton - University - Princeton - Environmental

Researchers from Princeton University and the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI) set out to help determine the characteristics that make certain species more sensitive to environmental pressures. They recently reported in the journal Ecography that a bird species' ability to adapt to seasonal temperature changes may be one factor in whether it can better withstand environmental disruption. The study focused on how temperature changes and the conversion of forests to agricultural land affected 135 bird species in the Himalayas. Species living in the seasonal western Himalayas adapted to deforestation better than birds native to the tropical eastern Himalayas.

Results such as these could help conservationists better determine where to focus their efforts, said co-author Paul Elsen, a climate adaptation scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society who received his Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology from Princeton in 2015. The research builds on work Elsen conducted for his dissertation with support from a Walbridge Fund Graduate Award from PEI.

Study - Species - Climates - Changes - Habitat

"Our study is one of the first to show that species adapted to living in highly seasonal climates are more likely to tolerate changes to their habitat from deforestation or other human activities," Elsen said. "This means that we might be better off investing in the strict protection of habitat in more tropical environments to protect species, whereas in more seasonal environments, a combination of protection and managing human-dominated lands could be successful."

Co-author David Wilcove, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and public affairs and...
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