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Daddy long legs latest creature to ‘disappear’

by Alan Harten
March 26, 2009

A study by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has established that warmer temperatures are already affecting bird numbers because of the loss or decline in numbers of some insect species.

The RSPB studied what effect a later and warmer summer had on cranefly larvae, popularly known as daddy long legs, in Scottish peat lands.

It discovered that over 94 per cent of the larvae do not survive in hot summers as the top layers of the peat bog dry out.

Therefore, in spring, many of the newly hatched chicks of some highland species of birds like the golden plover, which is at risk already, die of starvation because of the lower numbers of craneflies.

The golden plover is a handsome black and gold bird whose plumage becomes beige and white in winter.

The UK has about 23,000 breeding pairs.

The information is derived from three peat bogs in Scotland and the Peak District.

According to the study, average late summer temperatures in the Peak District have increased by approximately 1.9C during the last 35 years.

The report cautions that continuing higher temperatures may make the plover extinct, particularly in the bird’s southern regions.

The main author of the study, Dr James Pearce Higgins of RSPB, said that as temperatures are now the plover might be extinct by 2100.

She said the study gives an uncommon example of forecasts that take into account total recognition of a bird’s needs, and connects food supplies to climate with alterations to numbers and breeding frequency.

She added that she has never seen such an alarming situation in her career.

Dr Higgins maintains said that insects can do well in the peat bogs, by limiting drainage, for example, thus keeping bird numbers at a safe level.

Fewer craneflies could have an impact on other insect eating birds such as the wading Dunlin, which is found in the highlands in summer, and also the wheatear and meadow pipit.

Peat bog cranefly are smaller than the commonly found variety, which inhabit houses and gardens in autumn.

They breed later in the year and are not so much at risk from dry weather.

The fully-grown craneflies only survive for about two weeks.

The larvae are found in the earth where they eat roots, and at night, they come out to gnaw on plant stems.

The study was made in cooperation with Newcastle University, Manchester University and the University of Aberystwyth.

It has been published in Global Change Biology, an academic journal.

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