Blair Wolf is an associate professor of biology at the University of New Mexico. Research in the Wolf lab focuses on the natural history and ecophysiology of desert animals.
Preface: Dr. Blair Wolf’s research discussed in a previous blog released August 13, 2010 on what causes the mass deaths of budgerigars (small birds in Australia) during heat waves sparked much discussion.
PHOTO: Budgerigars killed by a heat wave near a dried-up pond courtesy of Dr. Blair Wolf.
PHOTO: Budgerigars killed by a heat wave in Australia courtesy of Dr. Blair Wolf.
As a result of this discussion I decided to invite him for an interview, and he agreed. Here is an excerpt from our exchange.
Dr. Dolittle: What are the most important benefits that we can derive from understanding birds in general, and from their adaptation to climate change in particular?
Dr. Wolf: Because of their great visibility and the popularity of birds with people, the decline and disappearance of birds provides a warning of large and increasingly rapid changes in our environment. Birds are very abundant and global in their distribution. Because they are generally small and maintain high body temperatures their water and energy requirements are great. This means that they have to respond rapidly to changes in their local environment. And although birds have high body temperatures and are thought to be pre-adapted to warm environments, the latest research suggests that many species are sensitive to both a warming environment (increased heat and water stress) and changes in the timing and availability of the food resources they need to survive and reproduce. Because birds are relatively long-lived they provide insight into the relative behavioral and physiological flexibility in vertebrates in general. Thus we can track the pace of these die-off events, which will provide an assay of the ability of many groups to adjust the rapid changes in climate. It’s the rapidity of the change that presents the problem for plants, animals and humans- it is unprecedented in the recent history of the Earth.
Stay tuned for more exerpts from this interview.