Purple-crowned fairy wrens, a small but attractive Australian songbird, may be at even greater risk as a result of global warming, according to a study that discovered that exposure to hot and dry circumstances affects the DNA of nestlings.
Unlike the more visible effects of global warming on animals, such as increased bushfire danger, habitat loss, or catastrophic heatwaves, the scientists found a silent, destructive, and lifelong effect.
The wrens, which weigh less than 13 grams, dwell in dense foliage along river systems in the Northern Territory and Western Australia’s eastern Kimberley region.
The length of a part of the birds’ DNA known as a telomere, which is a marker for how well they can reproduce and how long they live, was found to be affected as temperatures in their habitat rose above 31C during the dry season, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
According to the study, as the climate heats, the birds will be exposed to more heat, shortening their telomeres and increasing their chance of extinction.
Lead Image: A male purple-crowned fairy wren. Research has shown that rising heat is damaging the endangered birds’ DNA. Photograph: Laurent Lermusiaux/AWC.
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