AUG 13, 2017 05:51 AM PDT

Air pollution is threatening birds' health

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison have recently published a new study in the journal Environmental Research Letters highlighting the lack of information that we have on how air pollution affects birds.

We know how horrible air pollution is for humans. But do we know what it does to birds? Photo: India TV

What we don’t know covers way more than what we do, the scientists say. The study explains some of the knowledge that we are missing: air pollution's effects on the avian respiratory system; toxic effects on birds, including elevated stress levels and immunosuppression; behavioral changes; and effects on reproductive success and demographics, such as changes in population density, species diversity, and community composition.

"We know a lot about air pollution's effects on human health, and we know a lot about the impacts of air pollution across ecosystems," explains Tracey Holloway, a professor at UW-Madison's Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. "We were surprised to discover how little we know about how air pollution affects birds."

That’s because there are a lot of balls to juggle when measuring the impacts of air pollution on wild birds. Even just gathering data is extremely difficult and studies must take into consideration types and levels of air pollution, dynamic atmospheric conditions, species-specific responses, and direct versus indirect effects of air pollution. With all this on the table, it makes sense why there have only been only two field studies since 1950 in the United States.

The aim of this particular study was not to conduct field research; it was to assess where we are now with what we already know. To do this, the team looked through almost 70 years of the minimal scientific literature that has studied how air pollution directly affects the health, well-being, reproductive success, and diversity of birds.

"There is a lot of work to be done in this area," says researcher Olivia Sanderfoot. "Air quality is an ever-changing problem across the globe. There's a need to look at different types of air pollution and different species all over the world. We have a huge lack of understanding of the levels of pollution birds are exposed to."

One factor in particular that concerns the researchers is the avian respiratory system. "Birds breathe unidirectionally," Sanderfoot explains. "They definitely breathe more efficiently than humans, and it has been hypothesized that because their respiratory system is so much more efficient than ours, they are going to more readily pick up air pollutants."

The team hopes that their study will encourage bird biologists and other scientists to delve deeper into this field of research. Some studies, like the one reported on in the video below, even use birds to collect their own data. 

Sources: Science Daily, Environmental Research Letters

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
DEC 10, 2018
Microbiology
DEC 10, 2018
The 'Deep Biosphere' of the Earth Teems with Life
Deep within the surface of the earth lies a gargantuan amount of carbon in the form of various types of microbial life....
DEC 13, 2018
Earth & The Environment
DEC 13, 2018
Midwest agriculture more vulnerable to climate change than ever
The approaching climate doomsday has been the talk of the town lately – but particularly so for the Midwest agriculture industry. A new study from Co...
DEC 17, 2018
Earth & The Environment
DEC 17, 2018
Fossil fuels are out, divestment is in
The divestment campaign has reached an impressive milestone: 1,000 institutions have cut ties with fossil fuels. The achievement comes after six years of h...
FEB 03, 2019
Genetics & Genomics
FEB 03, 2019
The Effort to Sequence the Genomes of 1.5 Million Species
The Earth BioGenome Project aims to sequence and characterize the genomes of all known eukaryotes....
FEB 19, 2019
Earth & The Environment
FEB 19, 2019
The best climate change plan: invest in trees
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) had its annual meeting in Washington DC this year and there were a lot of hot topics. One of...
FEB 19, 2019
Microbiology
FEB 19, 2019
Viruses That Infect Bacteria May Impact the Environment
Our world is teeming with many different kinds of microorganisms, which interact with us, one another, and the environment....
Loading Comments...