Climatic fluctuations impact climatic niches of owlets

A baby Spotted Owlet rests on a tree, on a rainy day, at the Biodiversity Park in RCD Hospital, Visakhapatnam.   | Photo Credit: K.R. DEEPAK

Ongoing climate change and global warming may cause a shift in the climatic niches and habitats of the owlets or small-sized owls (20-25 cm) notes a new study. Climate niche is the optimal climatic conditions in which the species can survive. Owlets primarily feed on insects and small vertebrates, playing a vital role as a member of predatory guild, and acting as natural insect-controllers and rodent-killing machines.

The study looked at how climatic changes in the past affected the climatic niches of owlets and how the present climatic scenario may influence them. This can help frame new conservation strategies, adds the paper recently published in Ecology and Evolution.

The team of researchers from across India studied four owlets - Forest Owlet, Jungle Owlet, Spotted Owlet and Little owl. Using available field observations, climate data and modeling studies, the team reconstructed the climatic niches for the four owlets in the four time periods - Last Interglacial (120-140 thousand years ago), Last Glacial Maximum (22 thousand years ago), Mid-Holocene (6000 years ago), and present scenario (1960- 1990).

They found that the climatically suitable areas for owlets underwent many cycles of expansion and reduction across the years.

Climatic fluctuations impact climatic niches of owlets

“It is known that changing climate affects vegetation and hence, the habitat structure of the species. In the wake of global warming and climate change, several researchers have predicted that there will be detrimental effects on several species due to increase in global temperatures. It is hard to comment on how increasing temperature will change habitats, but what we can say is, it will,” says Dr. Pankaj Koparde, who carried out the study as part of his PhD at Sálim Ali Centre for Onrnithology & Natural History (SACON) and Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research (IISER) Tirupati. He is the first and corresponding author of the paper.

The study also tried to understand the biogeography of the Forest Owlet, an endemic and endangered owlet of India. Though the Forest Owlet occupies the same geographical region (Central India and North Western Ghats) and share similar food habits with the Spotted Owlet and Jungle Owlet, it is narrowly distributed. Why such a strange pattern in their geographical distribution? “Answering this complex question needs a comparative biographical perspective, hence we thought of understanding the impact of past climate on their distribution,” he adds.

Researcher at the study site

Researcher at the study site   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement


The team notes that Forest Owlets are generally found in teak-dominated landscapes at the edge of the forests while Spotted Owlets are human commensals occupying human-dominated landscape (rural and urban areas). Jungle Owlets occupy dry and moist deciduous forests.

“We are still trying to understand their habitat and niche requirements. We are presently involved in a genomic study on these species which will answer questions regarding their population past and give us clarity about their evolutionary trajectories,” adds Dr. Koparde. “We are also involved in understanding global trends in owl species richness, factors affecting them, and impact of night light intensification (light pollution) on them using biodiversity informatics.”

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Printable version | Jun 12, 2021 6:21:30 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/climatic-fluctuations-impact-climatic-niches-of-owlets/article30631890.ece

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