Colder climates? Researchers warn global warming threatens life of migratory birds

Fox News – Well, it’s summertime, but conservationists warn that wild birds could be at higher risk of disease and over-winter mortality if global warming continues unabated.

Scientists say that the species’ feathers lack the basic immune-system proteins needed to ward off the diseases that cause large numbers of bird fatalities each winter.

Fox News reports that scientists with the University of Minnesota teamed up with scientists from China and Ethiopia to determine that the wild birds are not only born with disease-fighting cells that can help the birds battle the pests, but they can actually replenish their cells through their eating habits.

The researchers studied the physiology of several birds, including ducks, which can be found in many of the United States’ lakes and rivers.

“When we looked at birds that have white feathers, a major immune system factor is immune hair cell number and the sensitivity of immune hair cell numbers to viral pathogens,” Zhen Xu, co-author of the study, told Fox News. “Compared to the regular and superior species in terms of both innate immunity and adaptive immunity, certain species suffer from a severe threat to their immune systems and can be found in areas of high mosquito-vector activity, such as Asia, Africa and Mexico.”

Consequently, the scientists explained, the shorebirds’ exposed feathers lead to fewer specialized immune cells, meaning less of the animals’ bodies are capable of fighting diseases such as bird flu, West Nile and leptospirosis.

The study concluded that if global warming continues unchecked, wild birds will be most affected.

“Another challenge faced by migratory bird species is that their large genetic differences and habitat variation can result in genetic variations in immune response to certain pathogens and insect-borne diseases,” Xu said. “Therefore, by concentrating their surveillance, monitoring and effects on wild birds, they can use this data to determine how this degree of threat impacts our biodiversity.”

Nancy Javorius, a scientist at the National Aquarium in Baltimore who has worked to protect the white-feathered duck population, said that she takes the findings about the birds’ immune systems very seriously.

“When you start seeing individual birds that are in pretty rough shape, that has a big impact because what they would normally do is go to warmer locales and get away from those parasites,” Javorius told Fox News. “Those parasites become the number one cause of mortality for the birds, and if they are facing risks as a result of global warming, you are likely to see those birds go to a colder climate zone.”

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