Bird populations in the Mojave Desert have collapsed over the last century, and now scientists say they know why: The animals’ bodies can’t cope with the hotter and drier weather brought on by global warming.
The discovery, described this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, draws upon historical records and high-tech virtual bird modeling to explain how climate change has caused such drastic population losses — and how it will likely cause even deeper losses in the future.
“There’s just a huge and building scientific literature on how we’re screwing up biodiversity, and this is a really important contribution to it,” said Paul Ehrlich, an evolutionary ecologist at Stanford University who was not involved in the work.
As climate change and habitat destruction due to human activity continue across the globe, many species have found themselves in decline or under threat. A recent study in the journal Science, for instance, found that there are nearly 3 billion fewer birds in North America today than there were in 1970. A complex mix of factors could be to blame, including pollution and human encroachment on their habitats. But linking climate change to the decline of a specific species is often a tricky task.
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