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Bye Bye Birdies

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A computer model study that compared projected land use and climate change data with the distributions of bird populations predicts that habitat destruction will be as bad for bird diversity over the coming decades as global climate change.

In recent years scientists have emphasized the negative impact that projected global climate change will have on animal and plant species. However, it is also well documented that habitat destruction due to deforestation, agriculture, and animal grazing also have serious negative impacts on animal populations. Few studies have attempted to compare the potential impacts of climate change and habitat destruction on any particular group of animals.

A new study published at PLoS from scientists at Princeton and UC San Diego attempts to estimate the impact of projected climate change and projected land use on bird populations. The study used bird population estimates, and projected climate data and land use data to attempt to estimate the impact of these two variables on bird diversity at different latitudes over the next 50 to 100 years. The scientists employed four different geopolitical scenarios in order to try to estimate the loss of bird species diversity depending upon how human societies react to changing environmental conditions.

Under all four geopolitical scenarios, both climate change and habitat destruction resulted in a significant loss of bird species diversity. In general, climate change resulted in a significantly larger loss of bird diversity at higher latitudes (temperate zones to arctic zones) whereas land-use and habitat destruction resulted in a greater loss of bird diversity in the tropics and subtropics.

Because land-use is shifting so rapidly at tropical and subtropical latitudes and because the greatest diversity of birds occurs at these latitudes, the authors argue that land-use may have a greater negative impact on worldwide bird diversity over the coming decades than global climate change.

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John R. Moffett PhD is a research neuroscientist in the Washington, DC area. Dr. Moffett's main area of research focuses on the brain metabolite N-acetylaspartate, and an associated genetic disorder known as Canavan disease.

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