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Emerging Scientific Discipline Of Aeroecology

Date:
August 3, 2008
Source:
Boston University
Summary:
Aeroecology is the emerging discipline for studying how airborne organisms -- birds, bats, arthropods and microbes -- depend on the support of the lower atmosphere that is closest to the Earth's surface. Called the aerosphere, it influences the daily and seasonal movements, development traits, such as size and shape, and evolution of behavioral, sensory, metabolic and respiratory functions of airborne organisms. Understanding how they respond to altered landscapes and atmospheric conditions can also help mitigate adverse effects.
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Aeroecology is the emerging discipline for studying how airborne organisms -- birds, bats, arthropods and microbes -- depend on the support of the lower atmosphere that is closest to the Earth's surface.

Called the aerosphere, it influences the daily and seasonal movements, development traits, such as size and shape, and evolution of behavioral, sensory, metabolic and respiratory functions of airborne organisms.  Understanding how they respond to altered landscapes and atmospheric conditions can also help mitigate adverse effects.

In the history of science and technology, there is an infrequent combination of empirical discoveries, theories and technology developments converge that make it possible to recognize a new discipline. Past examples include marine biology, biomechanics and astrobiology with more recent developments of nanotechnology and bioinformatics – all disciplines that are now well established in the lexicon of modern science and technology.

Kunz, who is best known for his extensive research on bats, explained that aeroecology embraces and integrates the domains of atmospheric science, earth science, geography, ecology, computer science, computational biology, and engineering.

The unifying concept that underlies aeroecology is its focus on the planetary boundary layer of the Earth's atmosphere, or aerosphere, which supports the myriad of airborne organisms that, in large part, depend upon this natural environment for their existence. Organisms that use the aerosphere, specifically arthropods, birds and bats, are also influenced by an increasing number of anthropogenic or man-made conditions and structures, notably lighted towns and cities, air pollution, skyscrapers, aircraft, radio and television towers, plus a recent proliferation of communication towers and wind turbines that dot the Earth's landscape.

In addition, human-altered landscapes increasing are characterized by deforestation, intensive agriculture, urbanization, and assorted industrial activities that are rapidly and irreversibly transforming the quantity and quality of available terrestrial and aquatic habitats which airborne organisms rely upon. These conditions are known to influence navigational cues, sources of food, water, nesting and roosting habitats--factors that can, in turn, alter the structure and function of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and the assemblages of organisms.

Similarly, "climate change and its expected increase in global temperatures, altered circulation of air masses, and effects on local and regional weather patterns are expected to have profound impacts on the foraging and migratory behavior of insects, birds and bats," noted Kunz.

"In contrast to organisms that depend strictly on terrestrial or aquatic existence, those that routinely use the aerosphere are almost immediately influenced by changing atmospheric conditions ( e.g. winds, air density, precipitation, air temperature) sunlight, polarized light, moonlight and geomagnetic and gravitational forces," the report states.

Ecologists who study animals that use the aerosphere face three important challenges:

to discover best methods for detecting the presence, taxonomic identity, diversity, and activity of organisms that use this aerial environment,

to identify ways to integrate relevant environmental variables at different temporal and spatial scales, and

to determine how best to understand and interpret behavioral, ecological, and evolutionary responses of organisms in the context of complex meteorological conditions and patterns within both natural and anthropogenically-altered environments.

"Appropriate integration of diverse tools and concepts for probing into the lives of organisms aloft can help inform important ecological and evolutionary concepts and management decisions associated with the spread of invasive species, emergence of infectious diseases, altered biodiversity, and sustainability of terrestrial, aquatic, and aerospheric environments," said Kunz.


Story Source:

Materials provided by Boston University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Kunz et al. Aeroecology: probing and modeling the aerosphere. Integrative and Comparative Biology, 2007; 48 (1): 1 DOI: 10.1093/icb/icn037

Cite This Page:

Boston University. "Emerging Scientific Discipline Of Aeroecology." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 August 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080801094258.htm>.
Boston University. (2008, August 3). Emerging Scientific Discipline Of Aeroecology. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 20, 2024 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080801094258.htm
Boston University. "Emerging Scientific Discipline Of Aeroecology." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080801094258.htm (accessed June 20, 2024).

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