Scientists use bird studies to predict climate change

Written by Staff Writer

(CNN) — Researchers are using feather size and shape as a tool to predict climate change effects on bird populations.

The increase in the size of bird feathers could influence the proportions of birds with a smaller body and those with a larger body, the UK-based Royal Society for the Protection of Birds noted in a statement.

The increase in feathers on the back of birds with large heads could impact flight, said researchers.

Spontaneous climate change caused by human activity has increased the amount of sand eels in certain areas, possibly increasing population numbers of larger birds such as sparrows.

“People are starting to understand that we’ve started to touch some of these ecosystems, and it’s a very subtle change, one we don’t always appreciate,” said Mark Stanner, lead author of the study.

“These adaptations are only now coming to light.”

It is unclear why changes in animal body shapes might be affected by climate change.

Other ways people impact the world are not always visible, but climate change can impact wildlife both indirectly and directly, said Mark Stanner, a professor at University College London’s department of plant and wildlife sciences.

Stanner worked with scientists from the University of Exeter and the National Phenology Co-ordination Unit to study the relationship between feathers and bird body size.

The researchers monitored the length and shape of the feathers on more than 200 blackbirds, thought to be genetically hardwired for plumage, from the Royal British Acre, a site in the English countryside.

The ornithological ideal — fit and flightless birds with a short lower tail — could impact the composition of individual bird populations, according to the study.

“What we see is that in some parts of the world the size of the feathers has increased,” Stanner said.

“In some cases it may be a physical change because the population size has increased, but we don’t know for sure. There’s still a lot of research to be done.”

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