Climate change shortens Aust bird's life

·2-min read

Endangered birds in Western Australia's Kimberley region are living shorter lives because of climate change, a new study has found.

Monash University scientists analysed the DNA of 1850 Purple-crowned Fairy Wrens over a 17-year period, finding those born in hot and dry conditions died sooner.

The study, published on Tuesday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed the Purple-crowned Fairy Wren would become extinct within a few centuries if climate change persisted.

"It's not immediate but inexorably they will end up declining," Monash University Professor Anne Peters told AAP.

"If climate change is not addressed and there's no evolutionary solution, then it will just keep going even if everything else - habitat degradation and other threats - are addressed."

Scientists at the Australian Wildlife Conservancy's Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary looked at the DNA region known as telomeres.

Humans and animals are born with long telomeres, which shrink with age and physical and psychological stress.

When a Purple-crowned Fairy Wren nestling was born in hotter and drier conditions, their telomeres shrunk prematurely and their life expectancy dropped, Dr Peters said.

"We followed every individual from birth to death," she said. "That's why we could do these analyses.

"One of the things that sets this research apart is we started doing this 17 years ago when climate change was just really starting to take off.

"We didn't start this study for that reason, but it turned out to be a very valuable outcome."

DNA damage found in the wrens could already be happening to other bird species in Australia, Dr Peters said.

"It's reasonably likely to not be uncommon," she said. "It just hasn't been demonstrated yet."

Monash University scientists will look further into the connection between climate change and telomere length.

"We're looking at features of the habitats that allow these birds to escape the warming," Dr Peters said.

"Those habitat features could be very good targets for on-the-ground conservation that would climate change-proof the species."

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