Thermal imaging reveals how birds cope with changing environments

Some changes in the natural environment are predictable, like the perpetual cycle of night and day. But many events, such as variation in food availability, predator attack and human disturbance can’t be anticipated. Wild animals cope with these kinds of unpredictable events by making physiological adjustments, diverting resources towards immediate survival, and away from reproduction (Romero & Wingfield 2015). If an environment becomes too challenging, this process can lead to population decline (Zanette et al. 2011). Falling numbers are usually the first sign a population is in trouble, by which point it may be too late for conservationists to intervene. However, if we could measure physiological changes in wild animals more easily, they might act as an early warning system, enabling us to identify ‘at-risk’ populations before any decline takes place (Fefferman & Romero 2013). And this is where thermal imaging might offer a solution.

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