Friday, December 11, 2009

College students to study effects on climate change on birds

NASA provided more than $445,000 to University of Georgia so undergraduate students can attend classroom instruction and field classes that look into the effects of climate change on birds and their migration, the university announced this week. The grant subsidizes a year of classes that will begin with the fall 2010 semester and will cover global climate change models, research methods and ways to design field experiments. Students will conduct their experiments during the summer period.

Jeffrey Hepinstall-Cymerman, assistant professor of landscape ecology in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, said students will use NASA data, models, spatial analysis, statistics and field methods. Hepinstall-Cymerman will work with two professors in the Warnell School -- Robert Cooper and Michael Conroy -- as well as Marshall Shepherd, professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

The effect of climate change on birds is sometimes overlooked when the controversial subject is debated, but Conroy notes that if springs continue to get warmer, then it affects when the primary food source for birds—insects—emerge. If birds don’t adjust to that change, he said, newly-hatched birds won’t have enough food. ...

Although the NASA grant primarily funds instruction activities, the summer undergraduate research will offer undergraduate students the type of field research experience generally found only at the graduate level and will tie in with work Cooper is doing on breeding bird productivity along an elevational gradient at Coweeta.

“The mountainside is a surrogate for climate change,” said Cooper, “and leafout and insect emergence will be later at higher elevations. Migrating birds that arrive in the spring to breed may be right on time to hit peak insect numbers at higher elevations, but not at lower sites, a phenomenon that is likely to be even more extreme with increasing global temperatures.”

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