April 27th and 28th, 2006 marked the eleventh annual spring symposium at the American Museum of Natural History. Organized by the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the museum, this event brought together hundreds of people to partake in discussions about the state of bird populations in the world today. The keynote speakers included famous ecologists and conservationists such as Dr. Tom Lovejoy, Dr. Michael Rosenzweig, and Dr. Karl Zimmerer. Other speakers included scientists from various countries, along with representatives from conservation organizations like the Audubon Society, the Consortium for Conservation Medicine, and the Nature Conservancy.
The focus of the conference was to discuss bird populations living in human-dominated landscapes. A human-dominated landscape refers to any area (urban, suburban, agricultural, etc.) that has been altered in one way or another by people. From the beginning of the conference, it was established that globalization is having a major impact on conservation and that basically the whole planet is human dominated. The speakers provided an in depth look at what is going on around the world in terms of bird conservation. Currently, the number of animals going extinct each year is increasing to levels three to four times higher than what has been observed in the fossil records, and about 12% of all bird species are threatened. Much of the concerns involve the growing human population, the increase in consumption, the tendency for people to live in biologically rich areas, and the growing disconnect between people and nature.
The effects of globalization can be observed at many different scales. We have all heard about the overexploitation of resources like fish and timber, and the impact of introduced species like rats on local ecosystems. Some of the more recent side effects of globalization and urbanization include pollution, disease, and climate change. Habitat loss and degradation is the number one problem since it reflects the rate at which natural areas are disappearing due to new housing developments, agriculture, timber extraction, and so on. One of the topics repeatedly discussed was the effect of habitat loss and degradation from agriculture. However, agricultural land also provides important resources for many endemic, or local, birds. Several speakers proposed ways that we may be able to reduce this effect by changing our current management practices to make the land more biologically diverse and less stressed by reducing the yields.
The conference ended on a positive note with discussions about what we can do to improve the conservation of birds today. First, everyone should be involved in conservation, especially at the local level. We should tackle the threats directly and think strategically about the solutions. We need to instill in children a connection with nature, and help re-establish a connection between people and nature. Collectively, we can work on restoring land to a more natural state to increase the diversity of plants and animals that live in each area and to provide animals with more space to live. There is hope for birds, as long as we work together and act now. Perhaps Emily Dickinson said it best, “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.”