(ORDO NEWS) — Conservationists have found that the number of South African hornbills has declined sharply in recent years due to droughts and heatwaves that destroy chicks and egg laying. The results were published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.
Hornbills are among the large birds found in Africa and South and Southeast Asia. They are distinguished by a bright color and a large beak with a “horn”. Mostly they live on the ground and feed on insect larvae, small vertebrates and plant fruits.
Over the past ten years, South African ecologists and their colleagues from the UK have organized expeditions to the most inaccessible parts of the Kalahari Desert, where they studied the number of clutches of the subspecies of hornbills – southern yellow-billed currents (Tockus leucomelas) – and tracked changes in their numbers. They also observed how climatic anomalies affect the state of the population.
Scientists have concluded that this species may soon become extinct.
In the first three years of observations, hornbill populations remained relatively stable, but in 2012 and in subsequent seasons, scientists recorded a sharp decrease: the percentage of occupied nests decreased from 52% to 12%, and the proportion of T. leucomelas family pairs with successfully reared offspring decreased from 58% to 17%. The number of chicks at the same time fell by about three times.
The decline in bird reproduction has been linked to rapid increases in mean air temperatures and more frequent heat waves in South Africa. T. leucomelas completely stopped trying to breed if the air temperature exceeded 35.7 degrees Celsius.
“While we have not recorded episodes of mass death of birds, however, our calculations and observations indicate that the southern yellow-billed currents may disappear from the driest regions of South Africa by 2027,” said Nicholas Pattinson, a researcher at the University of Cape Town (South Africa), whose words are quoted by the press service of the magazine.
In the future, heatwaves and droughts will hit southern Africa even more frequently than they do today. This will lead to a greater decline in the abundance of T. leucomelas. According to the researchers, it is necessary to immediately begin development and implement measures to save them.
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