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Human waste affects birds nest: Research

The researchers at the IISER) in Bhopal conducted a study that explored how human waste affects bird nest building.

By Ground report
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Human waste affects birds nest: Research
  1. IISER Bhopal study explores how human waste influences nest construction, advocating waste reduction for healthier nests.
  2. Global instances reveal mixed impacts of waste in nests, ranging from negative consequences like plastic ingestion to potential benefits in signaling and mating.
  3. Certain bird species use waste in nests, indicating adaptation to urban environments. The study emphasizes the need for conservation and native materials to replace waste integration.

The researchers at the Indian Institute of Scientific Education and Research (IISER) in Bhopal conducted a study that explored how human waste affects bird nest building. The study suggests the need to limit easily accessible debris to reduce its incorporation into nests. The study found that seven bird species in Bhopal use anthropogenic waste material to construct their nests.

Waste's varied impacts

The publication provides global examples of the effects of anthropogenic waste material in nests. Most research seems to concentrate on negative ramifications, such as an increased risk of plastic ingestion, entwinement, genetic damage, and reduced mortality. However, it is claimed by others that some waste materials that are brightly colored may actually help birds signal their territory or attract mates.

Vinita Gowda, a member of the IISER team, explained: “Our interest was unexpectedly piqued during bird monitoring on our new campus. We looked at the use of plastic in the nests and started this study to assess its impact on the chicks. We were surprised to see parents make this decision."

The study aimed to identify the types of anthropogenic waste used in nests and to assess how inappropriate waste disposal affects this behavior at the community level. The research suggests conserving and planting native plants in urban areas as natural nesting materials to replace the use of anthropogenic waste.

“Our literature survey at that time showed that people had predicted several “detrimental” effects but none of them had been scientifically tested and there were many arm-chair theories being floated around. In India particularly, we found a few studies and all of them are reported in our paper, and several blogs and images were also found but they were only observational in nature,” adds Gowda.

IISER Bhopal study: reduce waste in nests

Researchers conducted the study on the IISER Bhopal campus and documented over 120 bird species, including 25 migrant species.

Using surveys and analysis of 82 nests collected after the breeding season, the researchers visually assessed the amount of anthropogenic waste material (AWM) used, focusing on 11 bird species that built 45 of the nests. They found that the ashen-crowned lark used the most AWM, while the house sparrow and purple sunbird displayed the most variety.

Interestingly, simple laughing-dove nests lacked AWM, as did complex berry-weaver nests. This suggests that the use of AWM might be species-specific. Red-vented bulbuls, which use various types of AWM, were highlighted, possibly adapting to urban environments and thriving amid anthropogenic influence.

Layers vary, AWM reinforces, protects nests

Different nest layers serve different purposes. Most of the AWM was found in structural layers, potentially reinforcing the nests. The inner layers showed less AWM, possibly to avoid harming the chicks.

Although preliminary, the study does not detail the species-specific impact of AWM, prompting further research and potential local initiatives.

Dr. Vinita Gowda shared: "We hope that local initiatives to understand and address such environmental changes will emerge after our study." The study underscores the broader need to address the impact of AWM on bird communities.

Gowda highlights both the benefits and drawbacks of AWM in nests. Whether the benefits, such as using cigarette butts to reduce parasites, outweigh the costs, remains for her to study.

The team plans to continue the investigation, monitoring the use of the nests to identify excessive accumulation of AWM. This study could become a standard for measuring environmental health through nest composition.

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