Visiting Research Associate Professor Christopher Whelan has published a book Why Birds Matter
. Avian Ecological Function and Ecosystem Services.
The book highlights the many essential services birds provide to ecosystems and the consequences to animals, plants, soils, and humans if bird species continue to disappear. The book is co-edited by Whelan, Çağan H. Şekercioğlu of the University of Utah, and Daniel G. Wenny of the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory and contains contributions from 22 contributors from nine countries.
The diversity of birds’ diets offers a window into the many ways they benefit an ecosystem. Birds that eat fruit, or frugivores, help disperse seeds far away from the parent tree and away from seed predators. Birds that drink nectar pollinate flowers, helping to spread the flowers’ genetic material. Moving up the food chain, birds that eat insects, rodents or fish help control those populations, preventing them from overrunning ecosystems. Scavengers, such as vultures, act as a clean-up crew, consuming carcasses. Birds’ droppings also help redistribute nutrients throughout the environment.
Birds confer economic benefits as well, including natural pest control. In the book’s introduction, the editors recount presenting results of a study documenting birds’ pest control benefits to an audience in rural Illinois. Amazed that bird predation had been shown to increase apple yield by 66 percent, two farmers asked “Why isn’t this information public?” Why Birds Matter
is an effort to answer that question and bring birds’ critical ecosystem services into public consciousness.
Tied to the economic and ecologic benefits of birds are the consequences of losing bird species. Without frugivores, seeds remain close to their trees. Without raptors, rodents consume ecosystem resources and farmers’ crops. Without scavengers, other opportunistic species consume carrion and possibly spread disease. Whelan, his co-editors, and the book’s international contributors argue that birds’ presence enriches our environments and our lives, while their absence could destabilize nature’s carefully crafted balance.
For more information, visit the The University of Chicago Press website.