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Bird species face extinction from global warming

Original post made on Dec 7, 2007

Rachel Carson's 1962 warning of a "Silent Spring" in a world without birds may partially come true within the next century due to climate change, not pesticides, according to a new study by group of Stanford University researchers.



Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, December 6, 2007, 1:18 PM

Comments (31)

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Posted by Things-Always-Change
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 7, 2007 at 11:59 am

What's missing from this article is any sense of geologic history. Species have undergone not only "evolution", but also extinction via many different forces. The following Wikipedia article provides a fairly comprehensive overview of what is called "Mass Extinction":

Web Link

Notice that early in the article, the point is made that 99% of all species that ever lived are now believed to be extinct! One point the article does not make is that no one knows how many species have ever lived, because new (extinct) species are being found all the time. Making matters even more difficult, until about 550M years ago (a point in time geologists call "The Cambrian") life forms did not have "hard bodies", so fossilization did not occur. There will never be anyway to determine the number (or even the possible number) of species that lived and become extinct during the 4-odd billion years between the creation of the planet and the emergence of "hard bodied" life forms.

Oh, and we need to remember that man has only been around for no more than 1-2M years (max). All of the mass extinctions in the geologic past occurred before man appeared (in any form).


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Posted by Heard of Evolution
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 7, 2007 at 12:32 pm

A quasi-story anour quasi science written by a quasi reporter. About par for the Weekly


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Posted by Evolution does not happen overnight
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 7, 2007 at 1:26 pm

A quasi-comment by a quasi-speller.


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Posted by Heard of Evolution
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 7, 2007 at 1:37 pm

Let me correct my previous post, since spelling counts for some people.

A quasi-story about quasi-science written by a quasi-reporter. About par for the Weekly .


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Posted by Noam
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 7, 2007 at 2:59 pm

Things-always-change: "What's missing from this article is any sense of geologic history. Species have undergone not only "evolution", but also extinction via many different forces."

Homo Sapien is a species, too. We're closely related to other species, and want to keep an eye on things, so that we don't become another "number".

Side note: spelng don't mattr; contxt is evrythng


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Posted by Things-Always-Change
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 7, 2007 at 4:21 pm

> Homo Sapien is a species, too. We're closely related
> to other species, and want to keep an eye on things,
> so that we don't become another "number".

And your point is?

The mechanisms of mass extinctions in the past are still poorly understood. Even if they were, the forces of nature that were running free at the time were so great that it is difficult to believe that man could change the course of nature.

There is nothing wrong with keeping an eye on things as long as it's the right eye and it's looking at the right things.


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Posted by Joey
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 7, 2007 at 4:27 pm

Which is exactly why our species is undergoing a "vision" checkup, because we haven't been doing that.


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Posted by Things-Always-Change
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 7, 2007 at 4:49 pm

> Which is exactly why our species is
> undergoing a "vision" checkup

If only that were really true. The following link points to another of the many articles that abound on the WEB about "Mass Extinction":

Web Link

Two possible mechanisms cited in this article involve direct surface "hits" by asteroids and/or comments, and volcanism--neither of which man has any direct linkage to, or control of.

This persistent attack on coal/C02/SUVs seems to be all that the current "checkup" seems to be focusing on. It's a shame that more "environmentalists" haven't take a Geology course (or two) before that try to vilify modern society.


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Posted by Joey
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 7, 2007 at 4:54 pm

Some people wear soot-colored glasses, and don't see, in any case.


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Posted by good grief
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 7, 2007 at 6:09 pm

Even just watching a little Naked Planet on TV would enlighten these guys..this science show just went through the ways 99% of all species on earth have become extinct since the beginning of life on earth.

Burning fossil fuels and pollution weren't on the list of 5.


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Posted by perspective.
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 7, 2007 at 6:11 pm

We have to remember...somehow the species survived the time when the earth was warmer than now, so warm that Greenland was being farmed..a time which ended about 750 years ago.


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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 7, 2007 at 7:57 pm

Even if the surface temperature on Earth approaches the surface temperature of Venus, there will still be life. So what.

Mass extinction indicates that life will be very different than what we have now. The environment will change and in ways we probably won't like. Species will evolve to the new conditions but it doesn't mean that many won't disappear entirely.

It's too bad that some of you won't have to live through it.


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Posted by Things-Always-Change
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 7, 2007 at 9:31 pm

The following is a link to a press release about this study on a Stanford Server:

Web Link

> The study cited several reasons for the expected
> decline in bird populations, including habitat loss,
> disease, climate change, competition from introduced
> species and exploitation for food or the pet trade.

There are numerous forces at work here. Since the paper is not on-line at Stanford for review by the public, it's difficult to understand the interplay between the forces cited (if any), and how each of these forces is viewed in terms of its impact on bird populations.

> For the worst case, the researchers assumed that the
> number of threatened species will increase by about 1
> percent per decade—that is, 1 percent in 2010,
> 2 percent in 2020, 3 percent in 2030, etc. "These
> assumptions are conservative, since it is estimated
> that, every year, natural habitats and dependent
> vertebrate populations decrease by an average of
> 1.1 percent," the authors wrote.

It would appear from this paragraph that the model used by these researchers is trend analysis, based on the perceived loss of species over the past few centuries. While this approach is valid, it may well not be particularly predictive as it does not attempt to model the actual forces at work, or the response of bird populations to changes in these forces/stimuli.

For instance, many birds migrate each year--north in the spring and south in the fall. In those case, they are not bound by some "magic" to a given region (although they do seem to return to nesting and wintering areas with frightening navigational precision). Unless a model were to incorporate their propensity (or intolerance) to change, it's not clear how useful trend analysis is when the birds may well decide to move their nesting/wintering areas to some where more agreeable to their needs. Adaptivity is one of the "fundamentals" of life forms. Models which do not incorporate population adaptivity may not be at all helpful as time passes.

> As an example, the researchers pointed to India, where
> the collapse of the vulture population in the 1990s was
> followed by an explosion of rabid feral dogs and rats. In
> 1997 alone, more than 30,000 people died of rabies in
> India, more than half of the world's total rabies deaths
> that year.

This data point needs to be viewed opposite that of the public/government pressure to stop manufacturing DDT back in the late '60s/early '70s. As a result, it is estimated that over a million people have died of Malaria in Africa since that time.


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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 8, 2007 at 5:30 am

Go for a week without external energy or the products of external energy. You might live. Don't condemn the only thing that lifts you above that animal existence. Carson was criminally wrong. Read Dixy Lee Ray's books on this subject.


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Posted by perspective
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 8, 2007 at 10:44 am

To Things Always Change:

Nicely written piece...thanks.


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Posted by Mass extinction
a resident of Atherton
on Dec 8, 2007 at 6:42 pm

That link you sent is from 2004. I found the correct link where it is mentioned that migrant birds will have fewer extinctions than sedentary birds, so adaptivity has been considered.

Web Link

It is sad to see people watching one documentary and immediately declaring themselves experts. Also sad to see some Palo Alto residents' utter disregard for biodiversity loss. I guess wealth makes most people insensitive to others' suffering. It may make you feel better to tell yourself that you know more than the consensus of thousands of climatologists, but self-delusion will not reduce increasing heat waves, wildfires, tornadoes, other extreme weather events, and the consequent loss of human and animal life.

Because intensive fossil fuel use is a post-industrial revolution phenomenon, it does not take a genius to realize that it could not be a factor in past extinctions. That does not make it any less harmful now. That's a perfect example of a non-sequitur. It is like saying nuclear weapons were not a problem before the 20th century, so they can't hurt us now.

Those giving geology lessons after "watching a little Naked Planet on TV" need to realize that life has been around for 3 billion years, a time frame impossible to comprehend for most people. If 99% of species have gone extinct during that time, that means 1% of all species go extinct in 33 million years. But now, people are talking about 30-70% of all species currently alive (or roughly 0.3% to 0.7% of all species ever to have lived) going extinct in a century due to warming.

Web Link

Even with the lower figure, that rate would be 100,000 faster than the natural extinction rate, and too short a time for those species to be replaced through evolution. That's the definition of mass extinction. People also die and 94% of people who have ever lived are now dead. But if the world population is reduced by 30% (i.e. 2 billion people) in the next century, from an epidemic for example, that would be considered a massive crisis.

Of course things go extinct, but thanks to us, they are now going extinct at least 1000 times faster than the normal background rate. Which is why we are in the middle of the 6th mass extinction. An intelligent high school student would conclude this based on the available evidence, but many supposedly educated people purposefully ignore all the evidence to assuage their guilt.

You may be in denial but mankind has already changed the course of nature and is wiping out other species at a rate no other animal has ever come close. That's another definition of being human for you.

Other animals don't care about wiping out other species. We as sentient human beings can, but it is sad to see many people do not care either. Compassion for others, whatever species they are, is what can truly set Homo sapiens apart from other animals, but sadly, this characteristic is only limited to a minority. It is ironic that those who care the most about other animals and accept that we are just another animal species, are also those that have truly grasped the meaning of being a human and vice versa.


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Posted by J Muir
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 8, 2007 at 7:10 pm

Perspective: "We have to remember...somehow the species survived the time when the earth was warmer than now, so warm that Greenland was being farmed..a time which ended about 750 years ago."

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Do you realize that a 5 Centigrade increase over the next 100 years would make equatorial regions uninhabitable? Do you have any idea what human displacement on such a massive scale would bring?

We're not living then; we're living now. Just a thought.


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Posted by Things-Always-Change
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 8, 2007 at 9:48 pm

> Also sad to see some Palo Alto residents' utter
> disregard for biodiversity loss.

This point about mass extinctions is that biodiversity loss happens for various reasons without man's involvement. How many rational people are "sad" about the mass extinction at the KT (Cretaceous-Tertiary) Boundary?

Web Link

There was a lot of "biodiversity loss" at that time, but life continued on, without us (or our concern).

> need to realize that life has been around for 3 billion years,

Actually 4+B years is probably a better estimate.

Web Link

National Geographic 2002 Article on the Origin of Life:
Web Link

This is a tricky problem because first one has to find something that looks like it might have been "proto-life" and then one has to accurately date the specimen. Typically, the "proto-life" can not be dated itself, so some other rock sample needs to be found nearby which can be dated. 4B years is a long time to be sitting around waiting for a geologist without anything deleterious happening to the sample.

> If 99% of species have gone extinct during that time, that means
> 1% of all species go extinct in 33 million years

No, it doesn't. Mass Extinctions are random, with different causes which generally result in large scale loss of life -- sometimes up to 75% of the number of living species disappear in a short period of time.

> It is sad to see people watching one documentary and
> immediately declaring themselves experts

It is more sad to find out that some people will claim that the author of this statement declared himself to be an "expert". He didn't. He simply stated that he had seen the TV show. To suggest anything more is intellectually dishonest.

> Also sad to see some Palo Alto residents' utter disregard for biodiversity loss.

Each one of the cited Mass Extinctions involved "biodiversity loss". It would be instructive to have the poster of this comment provide us his insight into what the world would be like if it had not suffered "biodiversity loss" when the dinosaurs disappeared at the KT Boundary (Mass Extinction). In other words, what would like on earth be like today if the dinosaurs still lived?

At/about 1800, there are estimated to be about 65M buffalo roaming the North American continent. One hundred years later, virtually all of these beasts had been killed or died. Buffalo roamed in large herds that were perhaps in the tens of thousands. Given that so much of the US is now under cultivation, what would life be like in the US today if the Buffalo had not been killed off? How would our nation be able to feed itself if there were that many (or more buffalo) roaming free?

The are many issues to be considered in these matters. Too many to allow ourselves to be chastised by people who have show no evidence of understanding the depths of the issues, but have no trouble sounding sanctimonious and self-righteous in print.


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Posted by perspective.
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 9, 2007 at 7:22 am

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
I never said that I watched "one" tv show and became an expert. Trying to simply point out to those who have never thought of such things, such as you, perhaps, that there is much more to the "we are all going to die if we don't stop using oil" doomsayers.

Stop and think, everyone...what is the purpose of the doomsayers? What is always the solution? Give more money, and power, to a few...


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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 9, 2007 at 8:21 am

The purpose of the doomsayers is to gain control over the lives and property of others. This has not changed even as the threat was reversed. Repent, sinners or we are all going to hell. Then the collection plate is passed, but the usher has a gun to enforce the tithe. When your only tool is a hammer...


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Posted by Thinkgs-Always-Change
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 9, 2007 at 3:46 pm

Still on this issue of "Biodiversity Loss".

The Passenger Pigeon is probably the most important story about the loss of a specific species linked to activity by man on the North American continent. The links provide a fairly comprehensive story--

Passenger Pigeons:

Web Link

The Passenger Pigeon, once probably the most numerous bird on the planet, made its home in the billion or so acres of primary forest that once covered North America east of the Rocky Mountains. Their flocks, a mile wide and up to 300 miles long, were so dense that they darkened the sky for hours and days as the flock passed overhead. Population estimates from the 19th century ranged from 1 billion to close to 4 billion individuals. Total populations may have reached 5 billion individuals and comprised up to 40% of the total number of birds in North America (Schorger 1995). This may be the only species for which the exact time of extinction is known.

Web Link

The early Europeans in North America frequently commented on the huge numbers of blue, long-tailed, fast and graceful pigeons in the country. One of the first settlers in Virginia wrote that, `There are wild pigeons in winter beyond number or imagination, myself have seen three or four hours together flocks in the air, so thick that even have they shadowed the sky from us.' Similar reports can be found from the Dutch on Manhattan Island in 1625, from Salem in Massachusetts in 1631 and some of the first explorers in Louisiana in 1698

Web Link

However, what the links don't talk about is: what would life be like today if these birds were still alive in the same numbers that they were in 1800? Let's start with not being able to see the sky for hours at the time? What would that be like? And then, after 1900--there is the issue of being able to fly airplanes safely. How would anyone be able to operate an airport/airline if the skies were to become "unavailable" for hours, perhaps days--as vast flocks of Passenger Pigeons flew overhead? And then there is the food issue. The passenger pigeon ate acorns -- which were on trees that occupied land needed by farmers to grow food for people.

Given that the Passenger Pigeon has been driven into extinction, what detriment can we find that is linked to this species not occupying its previous "space" in the North American eco-system? If, in fact, the Passenger Pigeon represented up to 40% of the total number of birds in North America--we have an example of a massive "biodiversity loss" which has not demonstrated any particular impact on human kind, or the eco-system after more than 100 years since their effective extinction.


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Posted by To the Censors from Perspective
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 9, 2007 at 4:25 pm

Censors, at the risk of sounding childish, if you are going to delete my comment back to JMuir, about the Darwin awards, then you need to delete his comment to my post about the Darwin awards. They were the same comment...

That is the problem with your delete button...why don't you just let the posters make their point when they are responding to an attack?
Somebody might learn something...


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Posted by To the Censors from Perspective
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 10, 2007 at 7:20 am

Thank you for your symmetrical deletion, PAOnline...


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Posted by R Wray
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 10, 2007 at 8:51 am

If any one is interested in a rational take on global warming, I recommend reading the speech, "A Cool Look at Global Warming".
Web Link


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Posted by Things Always Change
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 10, 2007 at 2:07 pm

Link from above corrected --

Speech to the NZ Business Round Table by The Rt. Hon. Lord Lawson:
Web Link

And another one added--

Opinion piece by Prof. David Bellamy:
Web Link


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Posted by J Muir
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 10, 2007 at 2:15 pm

Al Gore's Nobel speech

Web Link



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Posted by R Wray
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 11, 2007 at 10:14 am

The contrast between Lawson's cool reason and Gore's hot emotionalism is startling. Emotion can provide motivation, but reason should dominate when choosing action. Let's hope that the cooler heads prevail.


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Posted by eric
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 11, 2007 at 11:45 am

Good, Wray. An article from a NZ libertarian "think-tank" (a web-based think tank....) written by an economist who professes no knowledge of the science behind the issue.


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Posted by Things Always Change
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 11, 2007 at 12:34 pm

> written by an economist who professes no
> knowledge of the science behind the issue.

And Al Gore's scientific credentials are?


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Posted by R Wray
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 14, 2007 at 3:53 pm

eric, You're fast and footloose with the ad hominem, but the content of the Lawson speech is valid even if it came from Berkeley.
One of the best points Lawson makes is that it's well and good for scientists to report the results of their research, but to evaluate the results in a political context requires economists, historians, politicians and others. Even the Pope is coming out against the Green hysteria.
See the following report on the Pope's position;
Web Link


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Posted by perspective
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 16, 2007 at 4:18 pm

Another reason I am leaving Episcopalian and moving back to Catholic...reasonably intelligent leaders who don't knee-jerk react, pretending to have a pipeline to God's will...


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