Let’s Analyze Some Owl Puke!

SciShort_7_16_15A new OSU research study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that ecosystems may not be adapting as well to climate change and human activity as previously believed. Or as anyone paying attention to the news these days might put it, “No duh.”

It may seem like every single report out of anywhere these days contains bad news for humanity’s effect on the planet. And that’s probably true, but this one has a very specific and underreported element which investigated the “energy flow,” or transfer of food energy, through small ecosystems. It found that these ecosystems are not generating the energy flow necessary to survive as they once did.

The researchers, including Rebecca Terry, an associate professor in the College of Science at OSU, analyzed fossilized owl pellets (dried up owl vomit) which contains bits of what they were eating, mostly small mammals, to get their data.

“These owl pellets provide a really spectacular fossil record that allows us to track biologic changes continuously through thousands of years,” said Terry in a press release. “They show a dramatic breakdown in ecosystem behavior since the late 1800s, in a way that doesn’t parallel what happened when major climatic warming took place at the end of the last Ice Age.”

This is a groundbreaking type of study that tracks energy flow over thousands of years and can really show in hard data the effects of humanity, not just through climate change, but habitat changes that we cause by being gabby, sedentary, bipedal a-holes all the time.

“Species distributions change over time, and that’s not necessarily bad in itself,” said Terry in the press release, “but this research shows that ecosystem level properties, which are often assumed to stay relatively stable even when perturbations happen, are now changing as well. The ecosystems are losing their natural resilience, the ability of one group of species to compensate for the loss of another.”

By Sidney Reilly