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Hotter days could kill more desert songbirds

Cara J

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From the raucous cactus wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus) to the wheezy lesser goldfinch (Spinus psaltria), desert songbirds face an increasing risk of death from dehydration in a warming climate, new research suggests. “During the heat of the day, they lose much more water than they can gain through foraging,” said Blair Wolf, biology professor at the University of New Mexico and co-author of the paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. “The only way they can stay cool is by evaporating water by panting. The rates of water loss increase greatly when temperatures increase above body temperature. Death by dehydration occurs once they have lost between 15 and 20 percent of their bodyweight in water.” Combining physiological data and NASA temperature data, Wolf’s team examined how heat waves affected water loss and survival in five songbird species in the southwestern United States’ Sonoran Desert. These included the Abert’s towhee (Pipilo aberti), cactus wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus), curve-billed thrasher (Toxostoma curvirostre), house finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) and lesser goldfinch (Spinus psaltria). The biologists captured the songbirds, exposed them to different air temperatures in an environmental chamber and measured their body temperature, metabolism and water loss to [...]


Read more: http://wildlife.org/hotter-days-could-kill-more-desert-songbirds/

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