August 10, 2018

Research Reveals Climate-Driven Bird Collapse in Mojave Desert

Deserts globally have borne the brunt of warming and drying over the past 50 years.

cactus wren costas' hummingbird Desert-adapted birds like the cactus wren, at left, have declined throughout the Mojave Desert, but not as much as other birds. Decreased rainfall because of climate change appears to be the culprit. On the right, a Costa's hummingbird. (PHOTO: Chelsea Hofmeier)

Researchers at University of California, Berkeley, have published a study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences describing the collapse of the Mojave Desert bird community over the past century due to climate change.

Cactus Mojave Desert VIEW LARGER The Mojave Desert. (PHOTO: Ben Young Landis, USGS Western Ecological Research Center)

To paraphrase the Bard: "There is special providence in the fall of a [sage] sparrow."

Extreme climates and scarce resources place desert dwellers on the knife edge of survival, and deserts globally have borne the brunt of warming and drying over the past 50 years.

When researchers revisited sites of early-20th-century bird surveys by noted biologist Joseph Grinnell, they found that the sites had lost on average nearly half of species, and that 39 of 135 species had declined significantly due to habitat changes and less precipitation.

Because the crash went unbalanced by rising fortunes for other fauna, researchers believe it's a new normal that could worsen as the region grows hotter and drier.

Arizona Science Desk
This story is from the Arizona Science Desk, a collaborative of the state's public radio stations, including NPR 89.1. Read more from the Arizona Science Desk.
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