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Urban avian rivalry: Birds fight it out for food and shelter in big cities

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  • Competition’s tough in the big, bad city. Just ask a chickadee.

    Research has found that urban birds aren’t shy about throwing their weight around against weaker rivals — and the richer the city, the tougher the underdog’s daily struggle for food and shelter.

    “As we see economic development, we see this intensifying of competitive interactions,” said Queen’s University biologist Paul Martin, whose paper was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    Martin and his colleagues were curious about how competition between closely related species differs in the natural and urban worlds.     

    “We know these kinds of interactions are really important in nature and they determine which species has the best access to resources,” he said. “But we have no idea how these things relate to urban environments.”

    Researchers looked at almost 300 bird species in 250 cities from Bangalore to Budapest to Bogota. The species were grouped into 142 closely related pairs such as the mountain chickadee and the black-capped chickadee, the house finch and the purple finch, the song sparrow and the swamp sparrow. 

    Biologists then looked at the behaviour of each species in the pair wherever their urban territories overlapped. Even when both species were well-adapted to city life, researchers found that the stronger species of the pair tended to let the weaker know that the town wasn’t big enough for the two of them.

    “The larger size can often predict who’s going to win,” Martin said. “More muscle mass, larger weapons like bills or talons — all those things provide a benefit to larger species in a fight.”

    The real surprise came when researchers realized that the law of the streets may not apply everywhere.

    Dominant species seem to run off the subordinate pair mostly in economically developed cities. For the rich, dominants ruled. 

    Not so in developing cities.

    “In those countries, we find species living alongside the dominant species in cities,” said Martin. “The competitive effects that we found for developed countries are completely missing.”

    Why is that? Martin doesn’t know.

    Perhaps it has something to do with how resources such as food are distributed in developed cities. Large, centralized food resources for birds — for example, managed waste disposal sites — may be easier for a flock of bigger birds to defend against a smaller rival.

    That’s for future study. For now, Martin’s content with the new insight into how wildlife behaviour varies as it comes into human communities — research he calls vital as humanity becomes more and more urbanized.

    “There’s been a lot of interest in our impacts on wildlife,” Martin said. “We’re seeing more and more evidence of actual evolution in organisms in response to urban environments.

    “The public is interested as well. Those are the organisms they see everyday.”

    — Follow @row1960 on Twitter

    Bob Weber, The Canadian Press



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    Environment

    B.C. couple helps California wildfire evacuees in Walmart parking lot

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  • CHICO, Calif. — A British Columbia couple’s getaway to northern California has turned into a mission to help people fleeing deadly and destructive wildfires.

    Destinee and Paul Klyne of Penticton had planned a peaceful holiday in Paradise, Calif., but flames destroyed their Airbnb and much of the community before their arrival. They decided to go ahead with the trip anyway, channelling their vacation funds into relief for exhausted evacuees.

    “The funds we had allocated for our fun, we just thought, OK, why can’t we help some people with that? So we went to Walmart and bought a bunch of $25 gift certificates and handed them out to people as we saw fit,” said Paul.

    The couple set up in the store’s parking lot in Chico, where they joined forces with a food truck operator and worked with him to feed evacuees until he ran out of meals. The next day, someone donated $2,000 to replenish the truck.

    Donations kept pouring in and more food vendors offered to help, turning the parking lot into a hub of activity where the couple estimates they served 1,200 to 1,500 people on Thursday. They’ve also been using donated money to buy more gift cards, fill gas tanks and buy groceries.

    “It is so nice to be able to bring forth the Canadian spirit of giving, of compassion and generosity,” said Destinee. “Especially in the times that we’re in now, with the political (climate), it’s kind of nice to say, ‘You are our American neighbours and we love you.’ “

    The wildfires are among the deadliest in United States history with more than 600 people reported missing. Paradise has been decimated, with nearly 10,000 homes, hundreds of shops and other buildings going up in smoke.

    The couple said they’ve heard terrible, heart-wrenching stories from people seeking emotional support.

    “We talked to one guy who said he ran back in the fire to try and get his mom,” said Destinee. “He couldn’t get his mom and he had to run for his life. His mom and his dog perished in the fire.”

    Both Destinee and Paul said they remember the names and faces of many of the people they’ve helped.

    One man told them he drove his Volvo through a wall of flames because it was either that or die, while another man begged them to make a video and post it to Facebook because he couldn’t find his girlfriend.

    “I have had more hugs from strangers than I have had in my entire life,” Destinee said.

    “We have seen melted cars, like the doors of cars melted off. We saw a Dodge Charger with the lights all melted and back end all melted. … You see people literally walking around just in a daze.”

    — By Beth Leighton and Laura Kane in Vancouver

    The Canadian Press



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    No G20 member has climate plan strong enough to meet Paris targets: report

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  • OTTAWA — Canadians produce more greenhouse gas emissions per person than any other G20 economy, according to a new analysis.

    Climate Transparency, a coalition of international climate organizations, released its fourth annual review of the climate polices of G20 members Wednesday. The report pointed out that none of them has a plan in place that would actually meet the goals of the Paris climate change agreement.

    Leaders of the G20 will gather at the end of the month in Argentina for their annual summit, where climate change will be on the agenda.

    Combined, the G20 members represent about 70 per cent of the world’s economy and population. As a group, they are also responsible for more than 80 per cent of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.

    Catherine Abreu, executive director of the Climate Action Network Canada, said Canada may only be responsible for two per cent of the total. But she added that two per cent is still a significant contribution when you consider Canada’s size.

    Canada is the 38th country in the world by population, boasts the 11th largest economy and is the seventh biggest emitter.

    The Climate Transparency analysis says, on average, each Canadian produces 22 tonnes of greenhouse gas per year — which is the highest among all G20 members and nearly three times the G20 average of eight tonnes per person.

    “It’s because of the oil sands and because of transportation,” said Abreu.

    “Oil and gas and transportation are the two largest and fastest growing sources of emissions in the country.”

    Upstream oil and gas production in Canada emitted 100 million tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2016, the most recent year for which emissions statistics are available. It accounts for one out of every seven tonnes emitted in Canada and went up four million tonnes that year.

    Road transportation, everything from passenger vehicles to transport trucks, emitted 143 million tonnes, or one in every five tonnes of Canada’s total.

    The Paris agreement, which Canada signed in 2015, commits every country in the world to working to keep the planet from warming up more than 2 C compared to pre-industrial times.

    The larger goal is to keep it 1.5 C because just 0.5 C warmer would have significant impacts in terms of extreme weather, melting sea ice, rising sea levels and extreme temperatures.

    Earlier this fall, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned the average global temperature was already 1 C higher and that it will reach 1.5 C by 2040 — unless the world steps up its planned action to cut emissions in a big way.

    The Climate Transparency report says Canada can expect little if any impact on its food supply, malnutrition or human habitats. But it warns Canada should prepare for more frequent and severe floods, a significant decline in marine biodiversity and a medium impact on the country’s ability to generate hydroelectricity.

    There’s irony when it comes to hydroelectricity. One of the big pluses in Canada’s favour outlined in the report is its abundance of clean power generation.

    Almost two-thirds of Canada’s electricity supply comes from hydro. If Canada and the rest of the world doesn’t do what is necessary to slow the earth’s warming, that source of power may be harder to generate reliably.

    Caroline Theriault, spokeswoman for Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, says the current government has a plan to reduce emissions that includes putting a price on carbon, making buildings more energy efficient and phasing out coal as a source of electricity.

    “Our plan is making a big difference — our emissions are dropping, and our economy is growing,” she said.

    “We will continue to work hard every day to implement our plan and meet our targets, and if we have to do more after that, we will.”

    Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press





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