Climate change and swallows

Program or topic

Predicting the effects of climate change on swallows and their insect prey.

Department(s) or unit(s)

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Contact information

David W. Winkler
Professor, Curator of Birds
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
dww4@cornell.edu

Brief Description

This project extends for five years a long-term study of the ecology and reproductive biology of Tree Swallows nesting near Ithaca, New York. Building on a previous LTREB project on the biological basis of individual quality, the current project is exploring, through a series of long-term correlative and experimental studies, how predicted climate changes will affect swallows directly and through indirect effects on their insect prey.

The Ithaca swallow study relies on 600 nest boxes to provide researchers with reproductive data on over 300 nesting attempts every year, and intensive study at the 260 boxes at Cornell Experimental Ponds Unit 1 add archival blood sampling and standardized flight testing to the suite of long-term information available.

The proposed research will extend this tradition of detailed biological investigations at Unit 1 by outfitting 25 active nests with boxes equipped with sensor nodes containing temperature sensors, motion-detecting web cameras and Radio Frequency Identification readers. These sensor-node-boxes will be an integral part of experiments using artificial elevation of nest-box temperatures to decouple ambient and nest temperatures and begin to disentangle the varied environmental effects of global warming on avian reproductive behavior and success.

Swallows are obligate aerial insectivores, and they are thus unusually sensitive to short-term changes in weather, as cool temperatures can ground the flying insects on which they depend. Previous research has developed the methods for sampling and analyzing insect availability on a daily basis, and the proposed research investigates the effects of different thermal environments, not only on the birds directly, but indirectly through observations on the effects of water and air temperatures on aquatic insect emergence and through experiments on the effects of air temperatures on insect flight.

All this research will be integrated in an attempt to understand how environmental changes associated with global change will affect the reproduction and populations of these birds. Collaborative work will be encouraged to engage entomologists in investigating the ecology and life histories of the insects in response to global change. This five-year research program is a focused approach to the most pervasive and important environmental concern of our time: global warming and the mechanisms of how Earth’s biota will respond to it.

For more information

David Winkler’s website.



Category: Ecosystems, Freshwater, Terrestrial, Wildlife

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