Europe’s wild bird species are on the brink, but there are ways to bring them back

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Almost two out of every five species of wild bird are of conservation concern across Europe, according to an updated and comprehensive assessment of their population status. That means these species are declining and becoming more scarce across the continent. Among the birds of conservation concern are some familiar species, including dunnock, goldcrest and meadow pipit.

Since the first assessment, which was carried out in 1994, the number of European that are of global conservation concern has trebled. Snowy owl, northern lapwing, Eurasian curlew, steppe eagle and bearded vulture have all been unlucky enough to make this list.

The assessment used data collected on 546 bird to estimate population sizes and trends throughout Europe. Species were then assigned one of five categories depending on their extinction risk, considering whether a species is of global or European conservation concern and whether its distribution is concentrated within Europe.

The number of species that are of conservation concern across the continent is worrying, but sadly not particularly surprising. Many of the species that are declining have been doing so for at least the past three decades—and this study highlights that not much has changed.

Hexbyte Glen Cove Which species are at risk?

Birds around the world are facing a multitude of threats. These include changes both to the climate and how land is used, but also over-exploitation, competition with invasive species and pollution. Habitat destruction and degradation, a key driver of bird population decline, affects 93% of globally threatened species.

Certain bird groups are being hit particularly hard. In the assessment, migratory birds, raptors, waders and duck species were noted as being of high conservation concern.

The recent assessment, along with many others, found that farmland birds are among those of highest concern. In fact, almost 60% of the species in the highest conservation concern category were associated with farmland habitats. These species include many that, in the not-too-distant past, were common.

The gentle coo of the European turtle dove, for example, was once a familiar sound across Europe’s countryside. But since 1980, the species has declined by almost 80% across Europe. This decline is even more dire in the UK, where turtle doves have suffered a staggering 98% reduction in their population since the 1970s.

Research reveals that agricultural intensification, including the and inorganic fertilizers, is one of the key drivers of population decline in farmland birds across Europe.

The outlook is equally worrying for Europe’s seabirds. Petrels, shearwaters, kittiwakes and—perhaps the most well-loved and recognizable seabird—puffins, are among the species that are noted as being of global conservation concern in the assessment.

Climate change is altering environmental conditions and industrial fishing practices are depleting stocks of the fish that these seabirds rely on. This means that , quantity and availability are all changing, which carries serious consequences for the breeding performance and survival of these top predators.

A lack of prey near puffin colonies in the north-east Atlantic, for example, means adults are being forced to travel further to find food for their chicks. This comes with for adult puffins and also means that the chicks are fed less often.

The new strain of avian flu that is killing birds worldwide adds further and very urgent threats to this already vulnerable group.

Hexbyte Glen Cove What can be done?

The assessment suggests that current efforts to halt and reverse the loss of Europe’s bird species are not sufficient. More and is needed if we want nature to have a fighting chance. But there are some promising measures that can be implemented both nationally and internationally.

In recent decades, there has been a focus on protecting sites for important bird populations. Natura 2000, for example, are designated areas within the EU that contain rare habitats and important breeding and resting sites. Currently, 18% of the EU’s land surface area is designated as a Natura 2000 site, and the aim is to create a network of connected protected sites right across the continent.

Evidence on the effectiveness of protected areas is clear: when implemented appropriately, they work. Globally, the number of species is 10.6% higher within protected areas compared with unprotected areas.

But protecting existing habitats is not enough to reverse declines alone. Habitats need to be restored.

A compelling case emerges from Hungary’s Hortobágy National Park, where areas of cropland have been converted into restored grassland. Over a three-year period after grassland restoration, the abundance and diversity of farmland bird species increased by 35% and 40% respectively.

We also need to consider the way we produce our food and fuel. Enforcing legislation on what kinds of chemicals, and how much of them, we use to control agricultural pests and diseases is crucial.

In 2018, EU member states banned the use of certain neonicotinoids (a class of insecticide) after mounting evidence of their widespread impact on insects—an important source of food for birds.

This is a promising start, but it will only be effective if implemented widely and not reversed. Unfortunately, the UK government has authorized the emergency application of neonicotinoids in each of the past three years.

There are ways to stop Europe’s bird species from disappearing. We just need to make sure these ideas are put into action widely and in the right way.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Europe’s wild bird species are on the brink, but there are ways to bring them back (2023, August 21)
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Europe’s space telescope launches to target universe’s dark mysteries

Hexbyte Glen Cove

The European Space Agency’s Euclid space telescope launches on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Europe’s Euclid space telescope blasted off Saturday, kicking off a first-ever mission to shed light on two of the universe’s greatest mysteries: dark energy and dark matter.

“I can tell you, I’m so thrilled, I’m so excited to see this mission up in space,” European Space Agency (ESA) Director General Josef Aschbacher said after the launch.

The telescope successfully took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 11:12 am local time (1512 GMT) on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

Shortly after, once separated from the rocket, it emitted its first signal, as scheduled.

The ESA was forced to turn to billionaire Elon Musk’s firm to launch the mission after Russia pulled its Soyuz rockets in response to sanctions over the war in Ukraine.

“The launch was perfect,” said Carole Mundell, ESA’s science director. “Now begins that journey.”

After a month-long trip through space, Euclid will join the James Webb telescope at a stable hovering spot around 1.5 million kilometers (more than 930,000 miles) from Earth called the second Lagrange Point.

From there, Euclid will chart the largest-ever map of the universe, encompassing up to two billion galaxies across more than a third of the sky.

By capturing light that has taken 10 billion years to reach Earth’s vicinity, the map will also offer a new view of the 13.8-billion-year-old universe’s history.

“We will unravel the mysteries of the Dark Universe,” Mundell said.

Hexbyte Glen Cove ‘Cosmic embarrassment’

Scientists hope to use information gathered by Euclid to address what project manager Giuseppe Racca calls a “cosmic embarrassment”: that 95 percent of the universe remains unknown to humanity.

Scientists hope the Euclid mission will help address a ‘cosmic embarrassment’: that 95 percent of the universe remains unknown to humanity.

Around 70 percent is thought to be made of dark energy, the name given to the unknown force that is causing the universe to expand at an accelerated rate.

And 25 percent is dark matter, thought to bind the universe together and make up around 80 percent of its mass.

“Ever since we could see stars we’ve wondered, is the universe infinite? What is it made out of? How does it work?” NASA Euclid project scientist Michael Seiffert told AFP.

“It’s just absolutely amazing that we can take data and actually start to make even a little bit of progress on some of these questions.”

Hexbyte Glen Cove ‘Dark detective’

Euclid consortium member Guadalupe Canas told a press conference ahead of the launch that the space telescope was a “dark detective” which can reveal more about both elements.

Euclid, which is 4.7 meters (15 feet) tall and 3.5 meters wide, will use two scientific instruments to map the sky.

Its visible light camera will let it measure the shape of galaxies, while its near-infrared spectrometer and photometer will allow it to measure how far away they are.

So how will Euclid try to spot things that cannot be seen? By searching for their absence.

The light coming from billions of light years away is slightly distorted by the mass of visible and dark matter along the way, a phenomenon known as weak gravitational lensing.

“By subtracting the visible matter, we can calculate the presence of the dark matter which is inbetween,” Racca told AFP.

While this may not reveal the true nature of dark matter, scientists hope it will throw up new clues that will help track it down in the future.

The Euclid space telescope.

As for dark energy, French astrophysicist David Elbaz compared the expansion of the universe to blowing up a balloon with lines drawn on it.

By “seeing how fast it inflates,” scientists hope to measure the breath—or dark energy—making it expand.

Hexbyte Glen Cove ‘Gold mine’

A major difference between Euclid and other space telescopes is its wide field of view, which takes in an area equivalent to two full moons.

Project scientist Rene Laureijs said that this wider view means Euclid will be able to “surf the sky and find exotic objects,” like black holes, that the Webb telescope can then investigate in greater detail.

Beyond dark energy and matter, Euclid’s map of the universe is expected to be a “gold mine for the whole field of astronomy,” said Yannick Mellier, head of the Euclid consortium.

Scientists hope Euclid’s data will help them learn more about the evolution of galaxies, black holes and more.

“We are trying to determine something that escapes us enormously: dark matter, dark energy,” Marc Sauvage, a member of the Euclid consortium, told AFP.

The first images are expected once scientific operations start in October, with major data releases planned for 2025, 2027 and 2030.

The 1.4 billion euro ($1.5 billion) mission is intended to run until 2029, but could last a little longer if all goes well.

Over the next few years, NASA also plans to launch the Nancy Grace Roman space telescope, its own project to study dark matter and dark energy.

The two missions will complement each other, said Sauvage.

“In the end, there is only one universe.”

© 2023 AFP

Europe’s space telescope launches to target universe’s dark mysteries (2023, July 1)
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