Assessing the danger of climate change to birds

Tito’s first paper was published today in Conservation Physiology. The paper, which includes some of Tito’s data, is a response to a recent model that had evaluated the likely effects of climate change on some of Australia’s birds. In our response, we used data from our study of the zebra finch to argue that the assumptions that are commonly made about the effects of a warming climate on birds are often over simplistic and aren’t able to account adequately for the adaptive responses that birds are likely to make. For example, in the paper we show that one of the important responses that birds will make on extremely hot days is to drink significantly more water than normal. If birds can stay adequately hydrated they are able to use that water to reduce their body temperature significantly and guard against hyperthermia. We also argue that there is an urgent need to get better physiological data from the zebra finch and other species to improve the value of predictive models in the future. The climate is changing and more extremely hot days are likely. That does cause a significant challenge for birds and there will be a tipping point for survival at some temperature. That point is likely to be slightly higher than the one predicted by earlier models though given the remarkable adaptive responses that we have demonstrated in the zebra finch. The full paper can be found here.

When it gets hot zebra finches drink more, and make use of the many artificial water points across the arid landscape such as this stock watering trough. (photo: Simon Griffith)

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