Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
[ E-mail Share Share ]
30-Jun-2005

Contact: Science Press Package
scipak@aaas.org
1-202-326-6440
American Association for the Advancement of Science

Fluorescent bird poop haiku




Click here for a high resolution photograph.

Grass paths guide bluebirds.
Fluorescent bird poop tells all.
Corridor works, Yay!

The fluorescent bird poop Haiku above, with its 5-7-5 syllable pattern, is almost as precisely structured as new research aimed at understanding how bluebirds move through grasslands and pine forest.

This research appears in the 01 July 2005 issue of the journal Science.

Birds make fluorescent bird poop after they eat berries that scientists have sprayed with fluorescent powder. The fluorescent poop helped the scientists monitor where birds go after they eat seeds from a specific area.

The scientists set up the bluebird experiment to try to answer a big and complicated question: Do narrow strips of an animal's habitat help to prevent animals from getting trapped in isolated patches?




Click here for a high resolution photograph.

Some scientists think these narrow strips of habit or "landscape corridors" can help prevent animals from being trapped and going extinct. Other scientists are not so sure. With many animals facing increasingly fragmented habitats that could isolate them from others in their species, scientists are anxious to understand just how well these corridors work as conservation and land management tools.

To study habitat corridors, the researchers tracked the movement of bluebirds through a series of 40 football-field-sized patches of grass, all surrounded by pine forest in South Carolina. Some of the grass areas were connected by corridors and others were not.

The researchers tracked where the birds went by looking for their fluorescent droppings in "seed traps" made from plastic flowerpots mounted on poles.

The scientists discovered that birds spend more time in grass patches that are connected to each other by these corridors than in patches that are not connected by corridors. This suggests that the corridors could be important tools for conservation, according to Science author Douglas Levey from the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida.

At first, the scientists were surprised because they never saw bluebirds fly down corridors. But a combination of observations of bird behavior just after eating and mathematical equations actually predicted that the birds would fly along the outside edges of corridors to get to other grassy patches.

Performing similar studies with other animals around the world could help scientists discover if landscape corridors could help to protect animals and plants from extinction.