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Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Declining baby songbirds need forests to survive drought

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October 19, 2017 Virginia Tech  read full ScienceDaily article here

According to a new study by biologists at Virginia Tech and the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, the offspring of a certain songbird, the wood thrush, are more likely to survive drought in larger forest plots that offer plenty of shade and resources…

Wood thrush are common to the United States, but populations have declined by more than 60 percent since the 1960s. In addition, many species of songbirds, such as blue jays, robins, and cardinals, as well as wood thrush, face the highest risk of dying within the first five days of leaving their nests.

…Birds in larger mature forest areas, on the other hand, were better able to withstand the dry conditions since these areas offer more shade and resources. Forest cover helps maintain climatic conditions, including moist soil, which is an important factor for wood thrush food availability. These conditions ultimately make areas more resilient to drought.

The research highlights the role that forest cover can play in buffering animals from stressful environmental conditions — in this case, promoting survival of young birds during drought conditions,” said Amanda Rodewald, professor and director of conservation science at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, who was not involved with the research. “This finding is yet another that underscores the importance of maintaining forested landscape mosaics in strategies to conserve biodiversity.”….

For ideal survival, then, Vernasco says fledglings do well with a “mosaic” of habitats made up of forests that differ in age and thus vegetation structure.

Ben J. Vernasco, T. Scott Sillett, Peter P. Marra, T. Brandt Ryder. Environmental predictors of nestling condition, postfledging movement, and postfledging survival in a migratory songbird, the Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina). The Auk, 2017; 135 (1): 15 DOI: 10.1642/AUK-17-105.1

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