Study: Fire could benefit some birds

July 19, 2011 at 7:40 PM
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WACO, Texas, July 19 (UPI) -- Texas researchers say some Southwest desert birds are less affected, and in some cases even positively influenced, when wildfires sweep through their habitat.

Scientists at Baylor University say fire actually helps some species because the scorched habitat left behind makes it easier for birds to find food.

Their study found three specific bird species in the Chihuahuan Desert -- scaled quail, loggerhead shrike and rock wren -- will be less affected by current and future wildfires because climate change will dry out the landscape, changing pine forests to uplands without trees and grasses.

With the drying out of grasslands through climate change, the researchers say, it will be easier for the birds to forage for prey.

"The results were somewhat surprising because the collective thought is that fire and climate change will have only negative effects on animals, but we found that is not the case with these bird species now or in the future around this area," said study co-author Joseph White, a Baylor professor of biology.

The researchers observed the birds over three years in their habitat at locations in western Texas and eastern New Mexico as natural weather and climate patterns occurred, then combined that data with satellite imagery and used a predictive model to calculate what will happen to the bird species in the next 50 years.

"Climate change affects the environment's processes and those processes affect different animals in different ways," White said. "In the case of these bird species, our predictive modeling shows it will affect them less than other animals, and we believe in some cases actually help them prosper."

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