Why are wire-tailed manakin populations declining?
Scientist always assumed that tropical habitats — including rainforests — were well-buffered against the threats of climate change. We thought that even under changing climate conditions, the animals in these ecosystems would be particularly resilient. Our research has shown the exact opposite.
Over the last 10 years, we have seen dramatic increases in rainfall in the Ecuadorean Amazon. An excess of rain can reduce flowering and subsequent fruit — the manakins’ primary food source. Manakins have a diverse diet and can eat more than 100 species, but if the fruit never grows, or becomes scarce due to increased rainfall, it can lead to drastic declines in their populations.
Since manakins live an energy-demanding lifestyle, food shortages have a major impact on their overall health and well-being. This is true especially when males are trying to court females. Imagine running a marathon every day for months on end without anything to eat, and you can begin to understand the challenges these birds face.
Did your findings surprise you?
Science is always surprising! Testosterone often gets a bad reputation, but our results show that having the right amount of hormones is optimal for living in a highly cooperative society.
To effectively protect and conserve animals, we must study their behavior and social systems in addition to their natural history. By documenting the decline in manakin populations, our work has prompted other researchers to study the impact of climate change on birds across the tropics.
The results have been eye-opening. We are seeing broad-scale declines of tropical birds in the most biodiverse places on earth. We are demonstrating that, even deep within the pristine rainforest, human actions (including climate change) are having a lasting impact on wildlife.
Effective conservation is a three-legged stool that includes research, education and stewardship. Only by doing research and educational outreach on manakins can we be effective stewards of this very special little bird.
This story appears in the April 2019 issue of Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute News. This study is a collaboration between the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Virginia Tech, Millersville University, Universidad San Francisco de Quito and Tiputini Biodiversity Station. It was made possible by support from the National Science Foundation.