Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Evolution of Getting Along and Alive: Woodpeckers and Mockingbirds

In case you haven't noticed I've had a slight distraction from the "music" theme of this page in lieu of recent finals material. I feel like a lot of these essays about sharing space and resources within ecosystems and communities have a lot of clear undertones that can relate to the music industry. Hopefully this shows how much I do not believe in my "Drill Baby Drill" argument I posted earlier. I've included a few songs I think exemplify what I've learned in my environment class this semester.


I could not find a version of this song that sounds as good as the album version but you can sample the songs here. I highly recommend picking up
Living With War.

Human beings have not exactly proven themselves as completely conscientious of the impact their actions have on other species. Until recent rediscoveries, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker was long though extinct after the lumber industry deforested the South after the Civil War as the country's needs demanded wood. The deforestation eliminated the habitat of dead and dying trees where beetle larvae lived. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker continued to see its habitat destroyed as the lumber industry continued through the 1940s until there was no more lumber. Making matters even worse, the destruction of the Woodpecker's habitat led it become rarer and therefore more valuable target for participants in the “fad of collecting birds”(Fitzpatrick).

Home Sweet Home for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers

Before the birds were near extinction, they had adapted quite well to their environment. Their large beaks suited the birds' diet of beetle larvae, which required stripping bark from recently dead trees to feed. However, without this essential environment the birds lose their ability to survive quickly after human intervention with their ecosystem. Other factors beyond human control may have caused the woodpecker's endangered status. The bird's direct style of flight, “nasal-sounding” call or “unique double-knock...used to announce its presence” may have made it more susceptible as prey to larger animals. The nomadic lifestyle of the birds may have led them to fail to establish a secure habitat. A Cornell University researcher estimated that “each pair of ivory-bills required a territory at least 6 square miles in size” (“Ecology and Behavior”). The question the Woodpecker's near extinction poses is when does the survival of a particular species become the obligation of another? How do we reconcile these problems when the needs of one species conflict with the needs of another?

Nice haircut!: Natural selection may have developed useful traits for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker but how should we account for unnecessary or even counterproductive traits? Male woodpeckers have red plumage to attract females but did this trait also make them more noticeable to unwanted predators and hunters? The stupid things animals will do to continue their progeny!

John Fitzpatrick, the director at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, has dedicated his life to conserving the land where the Ivory-billed Woodpecker may still survive in the Big Woods of Arkansas along the Mississippi Delta. Human necessities nonetheless stand in the way of preserving this land for the Woodpeckers. “Dams, levees and irrigation projects” have lowered water levels in the Mississippi River. These eroding riverbanks have caused forests to be “swallowed by the river,” destroying natural habitats for these birds. Water quality is declining as a result of “sediments, fertilizers, and pesticides.” Inspired by an initial sighting of a surviving Ivory-billed Woodpecker, conservation groups have focused on conserving over 200,000 acres of the wetlands. Scott Simon, director of The Nature Conservancy in Arkansas, asserts that though working towards the Woodpecker's survival relies on “faith [that] requires the suspension of disbelief,” the rediscovery is a “call to action” where work towards a “belief” can be “rewarded with reality” (Simon).


Conservation groups are optimistic about the survival of another species, the Floreana Mockingbird. In honor of the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth, the Mockingbird species that originally inspired his observations on natural selection in the Origin of Species is being reintroduced to the Floreana island it used to inhabit. Floreana mockingbirds were common when Darwin visited but quickly died out upon the introduction of rats, cats, donkeys, goats, and pigs on the island, which hunted the mockingbirds, their young and their food. The introduction of the animals to its environment led the mockingbird close to extinction. The reintroduction project requires removing the “invasive species” on the island while also catering to the needs of the mockingbirds reintroducing cacti and other native species to create conditions suitable for the mockingbirds to survive (Smith). The few remaining birds survive as two different unique species on the islands of Champion and Gardner-by-Floreana. Conservationists plan to reintroduce some of each kind to re-establish a genetically diverse population. Scientists analyzed some of Darwin's original specimen to study the DNA of the Floreana mockingbirds in order to determine a “path for conservation” (Henderson).

Richard Libowitz played Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's cover of Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock" on the last class of Mosaics I, exemplifying the Temple Mosaics' thesis about having to "get back to the garden."
The Galapagos Conservation Trust focuses on three problems that threaten the possibility of conservation which include addressing climate change, island restoration and local community involvement, including education. I think in many ways these approaches to maintaining the environment that supports the lives of these mockingbirds parallels some of the major themes within our environment class this semester. The Galapagos Conservation Trust's focus on climate change recognizes the interconnected nature of the worldly processes that influence natural selection. The effects of actions far removed from activity that occurs solely on the islands need to be addressed in order create a survivable habitat for these species. Efforts towards island restoration reflect attempts to undo the damage that has been done to the species while keeping in mind the variety of processes that effect the island's delicate ecosystem. The need to educate local communities to change behaviors that harm this ecosystem acknowledges that though these processes may seem distant or part of a collective action, individuals have an impact and a subsequent responsibility to minimize problems from “development and human intervention” (
-->"Conservation").

Works Cited

"Conservation." SaveGalapagos.org. Galapagos Conservation Trust, n.d. Web. 3 May 2010. .

"Ecology and Behavior." Cornell Lab of Orthinology. Galapagos Conservation Trust, 2010. Web. 3 May 2010. .

Fitzpatrick, John. "The Slide Toward Extinction." Cornell Lab of Orthinology 19.3 (2005): Web. 3 May 2010. .

Henderson, Mark. "Conservation of Charles Darwin’s Floreana mockingbird aided by genetic study." TimesOnline (2009): Web. 3 May 2010. .

Simon, Scott. "Saving the Big Woods." Birdscope 19.3 (2005): Web. 3 May 2010. .

Smith, Lewis. "Mockingbird goes back to its origins in honour of Charles Darwin." TimesOnline (2009): Web. 3 May 2010. .