Scientists have found that birds are apparently resilient and can adapt to heat stress due to climate change.

The ongoing climate crisis is showing the capacity of birds to withstand heat stress. It has been previously thought that tropical birds are highly susceptible to the effects of natural disasters, drought, declining prey, and habitat loss. They, however, are apparently adaptable to increased heat, as a new study has shown.

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Conducting the study

The research disproved the common misconception of tropical birds being vulnerable to global warming compared to temperate bird species.

It tested the tolerance against heat of a total of 81 bird species, 23 of which are temperate species from one site while 58 being species from a tropical environment.

Birds are Apparently Resilient to Heat Stress Due to Climate Change
(Photo: Pixabay)
Scientists have found that birds are apparently resilient and can adapt to heat stress due to climate change.

Findings of the study

The researchers discovered that both bird groups readily adapted to the high temperatures. 

Indeed, on the average, temperate bird species can withstand higher temperatures more easily. However, it has been shown that their tropical counterparts can readily adapt as well.

Despite temperatures being higher by three to four degrees Celsius, the researchers reported that this is well within birds' safe physiological tolerance levels. In fact, basically all bird species can tolerate an increase in temperature of up to 10 degrees and even more. 

According to University of Illinois in Urbana‐Champaign eco-physiologist Henry Pollock, tropical and temperate birds can tolerate temperature degrees reaching the 40s. Typically in the wild, they only encounter a maximum range around the 30-degree Celsius level. This gives them a large temperature buffer zone.

The research team found that in higher temperatures, pigeons and doves of both tropical and temperate climates remained cool. This is significant since the majority of birds can run hot.

Birds are resilient
(Photo: Pexels)

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Cooling mechanism

Many birds have a behavior equivalent to the panting of dogs to cool themselves, which is comprised of fluttering movements. This behavior, unfortunately, is energy-intensive.

There is also passive 'sweating' in pigeons and doves, which cool their bodies through water evaporation on their skin. It is also energy intensive.

In addition, global warming has caused more frequent and more intense droughts in many ecosystems.

Indirect negative effects

According to Jeff Brawn, University of Illinois avian ecologist, warming can still indirectly affect tropical birds through the environmental resources they need. The food and shelter they require for survival from tropical forests and other ecosystems may have reduced availability due to climate change's effects on these habitats.

For example, the warming temperatures may reduce the population of ectothermic prey, which serve as food for many birds.

All these make scientists worry about the survival of birds in a globally warmer environment.

Further research

More research is needed to address the limitations of the present one, since the new study only measured acute heat stress responses of birds from only two locations, one for each climatic zone.

There is a need to measure chronic heat stress adaptations as well as adaptability in other habitats, ecosystems, and environmental conditions.

This is especially needed since previous studies have shown how climate change forced 15% of all mammals and birds to endure temperatures that are way beyond their normal heat stress tolerance capacities.

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