Natural wetlands continue to disappear due to city and human development and are being replaced with manmade swales, ponds and canals.
Natural wetlands continue to disappear due to city and human development and are being replaced with manmade swales, ponds and canals. This degradation and replacement of natural wetlands suggest that urban areas may be imperative to wetland species, especially when natural conditions are unpredictable. Wetland birds are often seen in and around cities; however, they have been largely ignored in urban wildlife studies. In their historic ranges, wetland birds inhabit dynamic marshes, traveling long distances to locate food. Yet, does their ability to forage for food in natural environments translate to their ability to do so in an urban environment?
Using the Wood Stork (Mycteria americana), a large American wading bird found throughout southeastern swamps and wetlands, scientists from Florida Atlantic University’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science compared city storks with natural wetland storks to gauge their success in urban environments based on their diet and food opportunities.
Results of the study, published in Scientific Reports , provide evidence and a systematic understanding of how a wetland species persists and even thrives in an urban environment, by switching to human foods like chicken wings and hot dogs when natural marshes are in bad shape. For the study, researchers sampled 160 nests during the 2015–2017 nesting seasons. Of the 160 sampled nests, 106 nests were in three urban colonies and 54 nests were in two natural wetland colonies in South Florida where a vast freshwater wetland, the Everglades, is located adjacent to a large urban area. They compared urban and natural wetland storks’ productivity, body condition, reproductive performance, breadth of diet, and tested whether stork diets changed during suboptimal natural wetland conditions.
Read more at Florida Atlantic University
Image: Stork chicks in a nest in South Florida eating a chicken wing. (Credit: Betsy Evans, Ph.D.)