Jan 08 2013
When bird habitat disappears some people say, “Birds can fly. They should just move and they’ll be fine.”
A new study published last month in Ecology Letters shows why that idea doesn’t work.
Oxford University scientists, lead by Dr. Alex Pigot, studied the ovenbird(*) (Furnariidae) family in South America. They found that closely related species who evolved similar feeding strategies do not live in the same area. This isn’t just a local exclusion, it’s regional.
Feeding strategies are often characterized by the shape of the bird’s beak and Furnariidae have some amazing ones! This bird, the black-billed scythebill, pulls insects out of bark, bamboo and bromeliads. The large range of his close relative, the red-billed scythebill, barely overlaps. Each species has its niche.
What happens to displaced birds when habitat is lost? Obviously, the homeless birds find a new location but other species are already there and successfully exploiting the niche the new birds need. Out-competed by locals, the new arrivals may not survive.
Thus the study suggests that the effects of climate change will not be a simple shifting of bird populations but new layers of competition in a changing world.
Read more about this study of beaks and ranges here in Science Daily.
(photo of a black-billed scythebill in Brazil from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)
(*) Furnariidae are not related to our ovenbird warbler though both build nests that look like little Dutch ovens.