CIE Spotlight: American Exceptionalism: Population Trends and Flight Initiation Distances in Birds from Three Continents

Mike W.

Mike W.

TitleAmerican Exceptionalism: Population Trends and Flight Initiation Distances in Birds from Three Continents.

Authors: Moller, Anders Pape; Samia, Diogo S. M.; Weston, Mike A.; Guay, Patrick-Jean; Blumstein, Daniel T.

Source: PLOS ONE, 9 (9), SEP 16 2014.

Brief summary of the paper: All organisms may be affected by humans’ increasing impact on Earth, but there are many potential drivers of population trends and the relative importance of each remains largely unknown. The causes of spatial patterns in population trends and their relationship with animal responses to human proximity are even less known.

We investigated the relationship between population trends of 193 species of bird in North America, Australia and Europe and flight initiation distance (FID); the distance at which birds take flight when approached by a human. While there is an expected negative relationship between population trend and FID in Australia and Europe, we found the inverse relationship for North American birds; thus FID cannot be used as a universal predictor of vulnerability of birds.

However, the analysis of the joint explanatory ability of multiple drivers (farmland breeding habitat, pole-most breeding latitude, migratory habit, FID) effects on population status replicated previously reported strong effects of farmland breeding habitat (an effect apparently driven mostly by European birds), as well as strong effects of FID, body size, migratory habit and continent. Farmland birds are generally declining.

Flight initiation distance is related to population trends in a way that differs among continents opening new research possibilities concerning the causes of geographic differences in patterns of anti-predator behavior.