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Thread: The Silent Spring is coming true

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  1. #1
    Beastly Fido Roxxsmom's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2011
    Where faults collide

    The Silent Spring is coming true

    When I was in college (aeons ago), Rachel Carlson's The Silent Spring was mentioned in nearly every ecology and organism-focused biology course I took. The general consensus was that this book had heralded in the modern environmental movement and helped save us from a massive loss of bird species from pesticides like DDT. We did indeed snatch many of the raptor species back from the brink of extinction, including peregrine falcons, bald eagles, and ospreys.

    Sadly, it's the songbirds that are taking it on the chin now. Over the past 50 years, there has been a sharp decrease in the number of migratory songbirds. Ornithologists have long predicted that some birds do better in the face of human encroachment than others, so they expected to see a decline in some species and not in others. What they saw was even more worrying--a broad, across-the-spectrum decrease in bird numbers (and not just in species diversities). Even relatively abundant species, like Robins, redwing blackbirds, meadow larks, finches and sparrows. The culprits seems to be both habitat encroachment and pesticide use (the latter probably also partially explains the decline in insect numbers observed recently, which may also be impacting insectivorous bird species).

    According to data published in Science, there are 2.9 billion fewer birds in the US and Canada than there were 50 years ago. That's a decline of about 29%.

    I noticed that the lesser goldfinches we've enjoyed seeing at our thistle seed feeder for several years stopped coming after last winter and we haven't seen more than an occasional one since (we were getting swarms of them before). I'm hoping it's just because the end of our long drought means they can find more seeds out in nature and so they are foraging more widely, but now I wonder.

    And worry.

    Amphibians have been in decline for quite a while. I suspect many smaller mammals are also in decline, though it's harder to census them. Climate change appears to be playing a role here as well. Unlike birds, mammals tend to be nocturnal and very secretive (with underground burrows and so on), so it's harder to get the same kind of annual population counts as they've been doing for birds for decades.

    It makes me sad, because I love animals and nature for their own sake (surely they are entitled to live and thrive) and for the amazing evolutionary and biological legacy they represent. But for the folks out there who don't think other species are important (unless they are of commercial significance), I have to ask: do we really think humans can continue to thrive when we've polluted the environment so badly most other life forms are struggling?

    I give money to scientific and conservation groups, and vote for candidates who at least claim they care about the environment. I get organic produce when I can and use no pesticides or herbicides in my yard (even if that means it looks a bit rattier than some of my neighbors), keep my cats inside, and have landscaped in a way that is more water friendly and appeals to birds. I keep feeders out year round. When I teach non major's bio, I include units on ecology and conservation and hope some of the students come away with an understanding of how our behavior affects other species. But I wish I knew what more I can do to help.
    Last edited by Roxxsmom; 09-22-2019 at 04:12 AM.
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