Lessons to learn from biodiversity intelligence

Survival is the ultimate purpose of all the processes observed among biodiversity. It is their motivation for exhibiting patterns and behaviors related to gathering food, breeding, parental care, homage, migration, grouping together, etc. They possess instinctive abilities to naturally do what they need to do, at the right time and at the right place. It shows that their adaptive mechanisms provide them the intelligence necessary to thrive in whatever environment they live.

For example, egrets, herons and shorebirds, like other waterbirds know exactly when to arrive in certain wetlands for feeding and nesting. There are migratory birds that come all the way from the northern hemisphere and travel to different coastal wetlands on specific periods to establish their breeding grounds. This is typically during flooding seasons when wetlands are filled with water and small life forms such as fishes, invertebrates, tadpoles and plants. They rest in these areas and feed, until they regain enough energy for the next flight.

Why is this important?

Biodiversity is often used as key indicators of ecological health. By observing key species in their communities, we can determine the status of certain habitats, whether there have been changes or not. How? The species and communities occupying a particular habitat imply that the area provides them with sufficient food source, space, temperature and other factors that meet their survival requirements. In our example about the migratory waterbirds, they regularly move through different wetlands to find food and refuge. They seek newly flooded wetlands as they will be rich in resources that they need. When some wetlands are dry for a long period of time, the waterbirds know exactly where to find flooded wetlands.

Biodiversity intelligence

This so called, biodiversity intelligence, enables us to learn information about natural phenomenon by simply observing the presence or absence of certain groups of biodiversity. Movement is very common among living organisms, to seek shelter, food and other members of their species so they could form larger groups. And those who are not able to join, unfortunately die.

A study on how migratory species respond to environmental change

Winkler et. al, studied the animal decision-making done by migratory animals as they face challenges related to man-made environmental changes around the world. They questioned that there must be a gap between their decision mechanisms which was a product of evolution brought about by the consequences of the resultant actions. The gap or what they call “mismatch” may exist when a rapid change in environmental circumstance happens at a faster rate than natural selection.

They explored on the migratory decision mechanisms being behavioral strategies. They found difficulty in proving that such behaviors are less connected with other traits (genetic level) because practically speaking, vertebrates make their movement decisions based on a set of environmental cues which change over time.

feedback links, animal decision making
The feedback links between the phenotype and the environment. Source: Figure 1, Cues, strategies, and outcomes by Winkler et. al, 2014.

Now, take a look at what happens when information at stopover areas cannot be fully relied on. They are supposed to be the cues used by pied flycatchers, Ficedula hypoleuca, in their migration rhythm

migratory route, pied flycatchers
Spatial data show inconsistent temperature changes within spring migratory route of pied flycatchers from 1980 to 2001. Source: Figure 7, Cues, strategies, and outcomes by Winkler et. al, 2014.

The researchers questioned in the end, whether pressures in movement patterns in a migratory route come from the animals themselves or in their environments. This is upon understanding the biology of migratory species and the patterns of cue-correlations which indeed were interesting and presents. Interesting.

Application

Do you know that in this advent of climate change, many animals have been observed to be moving out of their typical territories or migratory routes frantically? Here are three examples:

Aptenodytes forsteri, emperor penguin
Emperor Penguin in search of food

1) Aptenodytes forsteri or the Emperor Penguin are Antarctic birds that feed on small crustaceans known as krill. Hint: you also saw them in the animated film, Happy Feet. However, krill inhabits the undersides of ice shelves to find shelter and algae for food. Since the Antarctic ice have reduced in size, so did the krill have reduced in population. There are less krill, and less food for the penguins. They need to migrate farther to gather food, which exposes them to high risks of survival.

 

 

Chelonia mydas, green sea turtle
Baby Green sea turtle fights its way to the ocean.

2) Chelonia mydas or the Green Sea Turtle is now considered endangered species in the IUCN Red List. They are highly sensitive to changing temperatures in all life stages. The temperature of the sand where the turtle eggs are laid in, determines the sex.

 

 

Phascolarctos cinereus,koala
Koala about to climb the eucalyptus tree.

3) Phascolarctos cinereus or the Koalas are native arboreal herbivorous marsupials of Australia. The warming climate, added with more atmospheric carbon dioxide, reduces the proteins found in eucalyptus leaves, which are the Koala’s only food. They are left starving. Koalas are reported to leave their tree shelter because of forest drought. Like the others, they become exposed to many risks affecting their survival.

Observe around

The next time you see birds flying low or probably absent in the sky at all, take refuge, a storm or heavy rain is on the way. Biodiversity also provides a treasure of first hand information about what’s going on around us, and not only about ecological goods and services they’re known for. They possess a high intrinsic value that can never be measured in monetary units. Indeed, they have greater value.

Cues, strategies, and outcomes: how migrating vertebrates track environmental change

Penguins search for food

Green sea turtles are highly vulnerable. 

Starving Koalas

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.