Environmental News from India:
- A new study shows that Nepal’s farmlands are an important habitat for a quarter of the bird species found in the country.
- The researchers also found that different agriculture practices influenced the abundance of farmland birds. Sugarcane fields attracted the greatest diversity of species, while rice fields had the highest number of individual birds.
- The study provides a baseline for tracking farmland birds and informing policies for their conservation, given that they’re found outside of formally protected areas.
- The findings also highlight the differences between the characteristics and threats faced by farmland bird populations in Nepal and neighboring India, and those in countries where agriculture is more industrialized and mechanized.
When Nepali ornithologist Hem Bahadur Katwal reviewed the existing literature to prepare a proposal for his Ph.D., he came across a subject barely explored, not just in Nepal, but in the entire Indian subcontinent. “Most of the studies on birds in the region have focused on forests and protected areas (PAs),” Katwal said. “But studies on birds that live in people’s farms don’t seem to have received a lot of attention in the subcontinent.”
Farmland birds live and thrive on land used by people for growing food. Long before humans started farming, birds were already living in open environments such as grasslands. As humans changed these landscapes, the birds adapted, nesting in hedges and eating insects and seeds on the farms. These birds — from buntings and cranes and storks to sparrows, pigeons, and parakeets, among others — became ecologically important for their role in pollination, control of harmful pests, and dispersal of seeds.
Various studies carried out in industrialized countries have shown that farmland birds’ numbers are declining sharply due to a shift toward mechanization and intensification of agriculture and the use of agrochemicals. In the U.K., farmland bird populations have dropped by more than half since 1970, with much of the crash occurring by the 1980s. Since 1980, Europe’s total farmland-bird population shrank by 300 million birds. And in Canada and the United States, 74% of farmland bird species shrank in number from 1966 to 2013.
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