In an attempt to understand how some species are more sensitive to environmental stress than others, Princeton researchers are investigating bird species in the Himalayas.
“Whenever people alter ecosystems—in this case by converting forests to croplands—some species suffer greatly and others seem able to adjust to the ‘new’ habitat. Why that happens is a big mystery in conservation science,” said David Wilcove, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and public affairs and the Princeton Environmental Institute.
The researchers looked at how 135 species of birds were affected by the conversion of forests to agricultural land. They discovered that species living in the seasonal western Himalayas adapted to deforestation more readily than birds native to the tropical eastern Himalayas.
Birds that live in the more stable temperatures of the eastern Himalayas may not be able to tolerate the sudden temperature variations brought on by deforestation, the researchers contend. By contrast, western Himalayan birds—who live in an environment where temperature is more variable—can better tolerate the climatic swings.
The results from this study will help conservationists make better decisions about where and on which species to focus their efforts and resources.