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Why it matters that climate change is shrinking birds

Why it matters that climate change is shrinking birds

Many of the benefits that humanity derives from the natural world, like the provisioning of oxygen, are priceless. Those ecosystem services that can have a dollar value assigned to them, for example the pollination of crops, generate far more value for humanity each year than the entirety of the global economy. Climate change can threaten these services through the loss of species or shifts in species’ size or abundance. For example, warming temperatures have reduced the size of many birds over the last four decades; this is emblematic of the scale of climate change impacts on the world’s biological diversity. There is an urgent need for action.

Shrinking birds are indicative of a much bigger problem

Scientists have long predicted that increasing temperatures would drive reductions in body size across the tree of life, but testing this requires huge amounts of data collected consistently over decades. This type of data is only available for a tiny fraction of the world’s species, including some North American birds.

Recently, a study based on over 70,000 North American bird specimens found that warming temperatures have been shrinking birds for the past 40 years. Because size determines organisms’ behaviors, survival and contributions to the functioning of natural systems, widespread shrinking of birds has important implications for the ecosystem services that birds provide to people.

North American birds are not the only group of species that are shrinking. Marine ectotherms, or cold-blooded animals (e.g., most fish), are getting smaller in response to warming temperatures.

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