Bird communities dwindle on New Mexico's Pajarito Plateau

Bird communities dwindle on New Mexico's Pajarito Plateau
Los Alamos scientist Jeanne Fair at Tsankawi on Bandelier National Monument, one area where the death of piñon pine trees may have caused a decline of some birds on the Pajarito Plateau. Credit: LANL

Researchers have found declines in the number and diversity of bird populations at nine sites surveyed in northern New Mexico, where eight species vanished over time while others had considerably dropped.

"These birds are not using these habitats anymore," said Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist Jeanne Fair, lead author of the study published recently in the journal Biological Conservation.

The study, conducted on those sites covering several hundred acres on the Pajarito Plateau from 2003 to 2013, revealed a 73 percent decrease in abundance of birds, dropping from an average of 157 to 42 birds. The diversity of bird also dropped by 45 percent, from a mean of 31 to 17 species. Some of the species impacted include the hairy woodpecker, western tanager and violet-green swallow.

The decline of may be an early indicator of the significant loss of piñon pine trees due to prolonged drought, hotter temperatures and bark beetle outbreaks in the Southwest, according to the research. The study points to a forecast of the loss of piñon-juniper forests in the Southwest by 2100. Other Los Alamos studies suggest conifer trees in the region could die by 2050.

"While avian communities regularly respond to changes in the environment, what's different now is that with predictions for a major loss of pine trees in the Southwest, we need to monitor the potential impact on wildlife that use these forests," Fair said. "If all these are going to die, what's going to happen with these bird communities?"

Bird communities dwindle on New Mexico's Pajarito Plateau
The hairy woodpecker and western tanager, among the species that declined from 2003 - 2013. Credit: LANL

"We need to dig deeper to find out what is actually happening. It will help us mitigate some of these problems," said Andrew Bartlow, an ecologist at Los Alamos and co-author of the study, who analyzed the data.

To better understand the influence of drought and hotter temperatures on forests and avian communities, a future study will examine whether healthy forests at similar elevations also show declines in . It will also help determine whether other environmental factors may be at play.

More information: Jeanne M. Fair et al, Avian communities are decreasing with piñon pine mortality in the southwest, Biological Conservation (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2018.06.035

Journal information: Biological Conservation

Citation: Bird communities dwindle on New Mexico's Pajarito Plateau (2018, August 16) retrieved 20 April 2024 from
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