Warm summers are dramatically reducing populations of daddy long legs, which in turn is having a severe impact on the bird populations which rely on them for food.
New research by a team of bird experts, including Newcastle University’s Dr Mark Whittingham, spells out for the first time how climate change may affect upland bird species like the golden plover – perhaps pushing it towards local extinction by the end of the century.
It also points a way forward to how we can attempt to strengthen habitats to help wildlife adapt to our changing climate and prevent such consequences.
Previous research has shown how changes in the timing of the golden plover breeding season as a result of increasing spring temperatures might affect their ability to match the spring emergence of their cranefly (daddy long legs) prey.
The new research shows the true effects are much more severe.
Higher temperatures in late summer are killing the cranefly larvae, resulting in a drop of up to 95 per cent in the number of adult craneflies emerging the following spring. With these craneflies providing a crucial food source for a wide range of upland birds like the golden plover, this means starvation and death for many chicks.
“The population of Golden Plovers in our study will likely be extinct in around 100 years if temperature predictions are correct and the birds cannot adapt to feed on other prey sources,” explains Newcastle University’s Dr Mark Whittingham, who worked on the study with scientists from RSPB Scotland and Aberystwyth and Manchester universities.
“Our study models the impacts of climate change on the ecology of the animal. In this case we show that higher August temperatures, as predicted from climate change models, are correlated with lower numbers of daddy-long legs.
“Daddy long-leg abundance is key for Golden Plover chicks in terms of growth and survival. Worryingly, our work is likely to apply to other upland bird species that also rely on daddy-long legs as a prey resource, such as Curlew.”
- Pearce-higgins et al. Impacts of climate on prey abundance account for fluctuations in a population of a northern wader at the southern edge of its range. Global Change Biology, 2009; DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2009.01883.x
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