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December 19, 2019 at 9:16 am

Miles Quoted on Heat Stress and Desert Birds

Dr. Donald Miles, portrait

Dr. Donald Milesbio

Dr. Donald Miles was quoted in a South Africa Today story headlined “Heat stress is causing desert bird populations to collapse.”

Miles is Professor of Biological Sciences at Ohio University.

Birds cool themselves by panting or vibrating their throat muscles. Both of these actions consume water. Past research has suggested that the species most vulnerable to heat stress are smaller birds, which lose water more quickly than larger species — just as an ice cube melts faster than a large block. However, this study indicated the opposite: larger birds saw greater reduction in ranges.

“The surprising conclusion is that it’s not only size, but also diet” that impacts the ability of birds to cool themselves, said Donald Miles, a vertebrate biologist at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.

Birds that eat grains or plants, such as mountain chickadees, drink water directly from pools and streams. If they overheat, they can easily drink more water to compensate. However, larger meat-eating birds like prairie falcons get all their water from the insects and animals they eat. When temperatures rise, they can’t easily increase their water consumption. Climate change has made these daily challenges steeper — and deadlier, the study shows.

Although other studies have documented species declines, prior to this new paper “there really wasn’t a mechanism to explain why a bird would succumb to climate change,” said Miles, who was not involved with the research.

Read more at South Africa Today.

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