Cli­mate change link to de­cline of shore­birds


CLI­MATE CHANGE could be caus­ing a sub­stan­tial de­cline in pop­u­la­tions of shore­birds, new re­search has found, prompt­ing warn­ings over the pro­tec­tion of en­dan­gered species.

An in­ter­na­tional team of re­searchers, in­clud­ing those from the Uni­ver­sity of Sh­effield, have found that nest pre­da­tion – where eggs are stolen by preda­tors – is ris­ing glob­ally.

Analysing data cov­er­ing 70 years, they dis­cov­ered this is higher is north­ern ar­eas such as the Arc­tic where it has risen three-fold, sug­gest­ing cli­mate change may be im­pact­ing.

A “dou­ble whammy” of fewer ba­bies hatch­ing, com­bined with a de­cline in the sur­vival of adult shore­birds, has had a dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect on pop­u­la­tion num­bers they say, with species such as the spoon­bill sand­piper be­com­ing crit­i­cally en­dan­gered.

While the pre­cise mech­a­nisms are quite com­plex, Pro­fes­sor Robert Freck­le­ton of the De­part­ment for An­i­mal and Plant Sciences at the Uni­ver­sity of Sh­effield has said, it looks as though changes in cli­mate play­ing a lead­ing role in driv­ing such changes.

“This is par­tic­u­larly threat­en­ing for this group of birds as large num­bers of species are de­clin­ing any­way - and many have for­merdetri­men­tal ly re­lied on the Arc­tic to pro­vide safer breed­ing grounds,” he said.

Prof Tamás Székely, from the Mil­ner Cen­tre for Evo­lu­tion at the Uni­ver­sity of Bath, said: “Th­ese find­ings are alarm­ing.

“The Earth is a frag­ile planet with com­plex ecosys­tems, thus changes in preda­tor-prey in­ter­ac­tions can lead to a cas­cad­ing ef­fects through the food web with con­se­quences for many or­gan­isms thou­sands of kilo­me­tres away. This could be the last nail in the cof­fin for crit­i­cally en­dan­gered species such as the Spoon­bill Sand­piper.”

It comes as a sep­a­rate study at the uni­ver­sity finds high lev­els of pol­lu­tion in many of the world’s ma­jor cities are ham­per­ing plants and in­sects’ abil­ity to de­fend them­selves or sur­vive.

Plants ex­posed to high lev­els of ni­tro­gen diox­ide, found in smog, pro­duce more chem­i­cals in their leaves, re­searchers at Sh­effield’s De­part­ment of An­i­mal and Plant Sciences have found, with feed­ing in­sects be­com­ing un­well as a re­sult.

“Many peo­ple may be aware that in­sect pol­li­na­tors, such as the thou­sands of species of bees, along with flies, moths and but­ter­flies, are cru­cial for food pro­duc­tion – but they also en­sure the long-term sur­vival of wild­flow­ers, shrubs and trees,” said Dr Stu­art Camp­bell, who led the study.

“In­sects are a cru­cial part of na­ture and the world we live in.”

Alice Bai­ley and Nick Howes from Wel­come to York­shire on the Stray in Har­ro­gate.

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