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Climate change pushed songbirds from Bahamas in the wake of the last ice age
by Brooks Hays
(UPI) Aug 29, 2017

Birds use their sense of smell for long-distance migration
(UPI) Aug 29, 2017 - Birds have a nose for direction. New research shows a bird's sense of smell is essential to long-distance migration.

Different bird species rely on different combinations of senses to navigate their way across long distances, but scientists have struggled to determine which factor -- whether magnetic field detection or olfaction -- is most important.

Previous studies have shown blocking a bird's sense of smell is more disruptive to the bird's ability to navigate than a disruption of a bird's magnetic sense.

"However, critics have questioned whether birds would behave in the same way had they not been artificially displaced, as well as arguing that rather than affecting a bird's ability to navigate, sensory deprivation may in fact impair a related function, such as its motivation to return home or its ability to forage," Oliver Padget, a zoologist at Cambridge University, said in a news release.

Researchers were able to prove the importance of olfaction to migration in their latest study of a group of free-ranging Scopoli's shearwaters living along the coast of the Spanish island of Majorca.

Scientists split the birds into three groups. One group had their senses of smell disabled through exposure to zinc sulphate. Magnets allowed researchers to disrupt the magnetic sense of the second group. A third group served as a control group. GPS devices allowed researchers to track the birds' movements.

Researchers found all three groups took regular foraging trips and returned home safely, suggesting a lack of olfaction does not prevent or disrupt normal day-to-day foraging behavior.

When the group of birds without a sense of smell took longer flights over open ocean, the birds took unusual, inefficient and surprisingly straight routes. These poorly oriented routes normalized once birds came back into sight of land, suggesting smell is essential to long-distance travel but not necessary for shorter local trips when visual topographical cues are available.

Scientists shared their findings in a paper published in the journal Scientific Reports.

"To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study that follows free-ranging foraging trips in sensorily manipulated birds," said Tim Guilford, a professor of animal behavior. "The displacement experiment has -- rightly -- been at the heart of bird navigation studies and has produced powerful findings on what birds are able to do in the absence of information collected on their outward journey."

New research suggests a pair of songbird species were pushed from the Bahamas by a rapidly warming climate some 12,000 years ago.

Prior to the last glacial-interglacial transition, the eastern bluebird, Sialia sialis, and Hispaniolan crossbill, Loxia megaplaga, were two of 17 songbird species living on the Bahamian islands.

Though now extant in the Bahamas, the pair are the only species still in existence. And the latest research confirms the duo lived among the Bahamian islands full-time.

"The abundance of fossils, the presence of young birds among the fossils, and the evolution of a shorter wingspan in the eastern bluebird all suggest that these birds did not migrate to the island but were a resident population," David Steadman, curator of ornithology at the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida, said in a news release. "But then they disappeared."

The disappearance of vast majority of species over the last 20,000 years can be blamed on humans -- whether due to overhunting, the conversion of habitat to agricultural lands or the introduction of invasive species. But the eastern bluebird and Hispaniolan crossbill left the Bahamas before humans colonized the islands.

Researchers created climate models to better understand how the Bahamian islands were impacted by the end of the last ice age. Their analysis showed the Bahamas were significantly cooler and drier during the last ice age.

During the last glacial-interglacial transition, however, sea levels rose dramatically as glaciers melted, shrinking the size of the Bahamian islands. The Bahamian climate warmed and became wetter. What was once a habitat and climate hospitable to songbirds, quickly became a much harsher landscape.

"We know from studying these birds today that their habitats are pine grasslands that are found in cooler, dryer regions," said Janet Franklin, a professor of biogeography at the University of California, Riverside. "These habitats were lost when the Bahamian Islands became more tropical."

The latest findings -- detailed this week in the journal PNAS -- offer a preview of the fate of other species should global warming continue unabated.

"Anthropogenic climate change and resulting sea level rise are now happening much more rapidly than at the transition from the last ice age to the modern global climate," Franklin said. "Species and ecosystems do not have time to adjust, especially when climate change is happening in a world where people have transformed the face of the planet in other ways, through deforestation and so forth."

Study validates East Antarctic ice sheet to remain stable even if western ice sheet melts
Indianapolis IN (SPX) Aug 21, 2017
A new study from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis validates that the central core of the East Antarctic ice sheet should remain stable even if the West Antarctic ice sheet melts. The study's findings are significant, given that some predict the West Antarctic ice sheet could melt quickly due to global warming. If the East Antarctic ice sheet, which is 10 times larger ... read more

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Beyond the Ice Age

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