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Monday, August 31, 2009

Biggest Threat to Birds?

When I was at Audubon, I frequently had to deal with statements along the lines of "Global Warming is the greatest threat to birds and biodiversity in our lifetimes." Most of the time that would leave me scratching my head. How do we know if this is true or not? What about habitat destruction or modification? These are complex issues that leave most of us concerned but feeling helpless and wanting to just turn off the computer and head go birding.

What should we do about global warming when the issue seems to be so complex scientifically that it is hard to know what is really happening, let alone what we should do about it? How would we know if it is a bigger threat than habitat destruction or modification?

We've been trying to save birds for over 100 years and the news seems to just keep getting worse (a few bright spots like Kirtland's Warblers and California Condors--which we will have to manage forever--aside). Have the issues become so complex scientifically, politically, and culturally that all we can really do now is just enjoy the birds and hope for the best?


slybird said...

"Global warming is the greatest threat to birds and biodiversity in our lifetimes"? That's bull, in my humble opinion.

Habitat destruction (and its insidious derivative, fragmentation) is the greatest threat to birds and biodiversity in our lifetimes. I just don't see why anyone can think any different? Once humans spread into a location, the habitat ain't never coming back. It's a virtually irreversible process that won't be stopping any time soon.

Species diversity is strongly related to area. We've wrecked and reduced the area, so species diversity HAS to plummet accordingly. Most species won't be extirpated outright, there is a long slow decline where the fragmented populations are more subject to stochastic extinction. Spread the habitat out into fragments, the species in those fragments start winking out of existence, then the whole grid collapses. It's happening - there's all sorts of research showing how roads are barriers to gene flow between herp populations, interior forest birds in the neotropics won't disperse across even small open barriers to other fragments, the species densities of fragmented habitats declines slowly but surely over time.

I don't know how this process is going to end and I don't know what conservation's endgame is to address it. But I'm not optimistic.

Global warming, disease, pollution, hunting, are all factors lying on top of the baseline of habitat loss that will help push species over the brink. Ultimately, though, habitat loss should be the #1 concern of conservation.

But that's just my $0.02 :)


sue said...

It may be easier for some to just think it is a huge problem that the "little guy" can't do anything about than to actually make a difference by standing up to habitat destruction, domesticated cats and other issues we can tackle in our own backyards.

When someone believes global warming is the sole culprit, it is easy to lose personal responsibility and our own activism.

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