The extinction of desert birds kicks into high gear.

Southern Yellow-Billed Hornbill (Tockus leucomelas) feed on insects, spiders, and scorpions as well as seeds that they find on the ground. A socially monogamous species, they are well-known for their unusual breeding and nesting habits where the female cements closed the entrance to her nest with mud and remains imprisoned there for 50 days.

Temperatures have been rising for decades and have accelerated much earlier than predicted, only a few years ago. Biodiversity loss, ocean acidification, and climate change are all interconnected and threaten an extinction crisis as many species can not adapt in time to adapt to the changes.

According to a new study from the University of Cape Town‘s FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, desert birds struggle to adapt to climate change. Many may go extinct locally within five years.

Grrl Scientists writes in Forbes:

“There is rapidly growing evidence for the negative effects of high temperatures on the behavior, physiology, breeding and survival of various bird, mammal, and reptile species around the world”, said conservation ecologist Nicholas Pattinson, who is a graduate student at the University of Cape Town‘s FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology. Mr Pattinson noted that heat-related mass die-offs that occur over just a few days are increasingly being recorded, and these pose a deeply worrying threat to population persistence and to ecosystem function. But what is happening to desert-dwelling birds over time frames longer than a few days?

“[T]he motivation for this study was to investigate if rapid climate warming was having a demonstrable effect on the breeding success of an arid-zone bird over a longer time scale, and whether sub-lethal ‘hidden’ effects of high temperatures and drought could be affecting population-level breeding outputs”, Mr Pattinson told me in email.


“During the monitoring period, sub-lethal effects of high temperatures (including compromised foraging, provisioning, and body mass maintenance) reduced the chance of hornbills breeding successfully or even breeding at all”, Mr Pattinson explained in email.

Mr Pattinson and his collaborators also found that overall breeding output collapsed even in non-drought years. This is because many desert-dwelling birds, including hornbills, are constrained to breed in response to rainfall, and this makes it difficult for them to shift their breeding efforts outside of the hottest periods of the year because it corresponds to the rainy season.

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