×

Announcing: Slashdot Deals - Explore geek apps, games, gadgets and more. (what is this?)

Thank you!

We are sorry to see you leave - Beta is different and we value the time you took to try it out. Before you decide to go, please take a look at some value-adds for Beta and learn more about it. Thank you for reading Slashdot, and for making the site better!

Humans Not Solely To Blame For Passenger Pigeon Extinction

samzenpus posted about 5 months ago | from the who's-to-blame dept.

Earth 53

sciencehabit (1205606) writes When the last passenger pigeon died at a zoo in 1914, the species became a cautionary tale of the dramatic impact humans can have on the world. But a new study finds that the bird experienced multiple population booms and crashes over the million years before its final demise. The sensitivity of the population to natural fluctuations, the authors argue, could have been what made it so vulnerable to extinction.

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Regardless of any 'sensitivities'... (2, Insightful)

nwaack (3482871) | about 5 months ago | (#47249249)

...we humans still hunted the crap out of it with absolutely no regard to the future of the species. I'd still say it was our fault.

Re:Regardless of any 'sensitivities'... (4, Insightful)

TapeCutter (624760) | about 5 months ago | (#47249287)

Yep, they survived multiple population crashes for a million years.

You ALWAYS do (4, Insightful)

aepervius (535155) | about 5 months ago | (#47252265)

There are not many scenario. You always survive population boom and crash until the last crash which you do not survive, interspersed with maybe a few stable periods. Omnes vulnerant, ultima necat.

Re:Regardless of any 'sensitivities'... (2, Funny)

wirefarm (18470) | about 5 months ago | (#47249369)

Apparently they were fairly awful creatures—flocks of a few million birds blackening the skies, decimating crops and crapping on everything.
Couldn't we direct our sympathies to a more like-able creature? Wooly mammoths or great awks, perhaps?

Maybe we eradicated them and it's actually a *good* thing. It's not quite the same as how we (as a species) are still hunting the poor ortolan

Call me insensitive, but I really hate pigeons.

Re:Regardless of any 'sensitivities'... (4, Funny)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 5 months ago | (#47249417)

great awks

Well sed.

Re:Regardless of any 'sensitivities'... (1)

wirefarm (18470) | about 5 months ago | (#47250169)

Oh, man. Did I do that?
Of course I did

"Auk"? "A-U-K"? Nope, I've been sitting at a terminal too long for that to *ever* look right

Re:Regardless of any 'sensitivities'... (4, Funny)

Opportunist (166417) | about 5 months ago | (#47249613)

Wooly mammoths? Can you imagine those beasts trampling down your fields? Because you don't think that your puny fences would keep them reined in, do you? And the shedding everywhere!

You young'uns have NO idea what the paleolithic time was like! Now get offa my steppe!

Re:Regardless of any 'sensitivities'... (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about 5 months ago | (#47250017)

...I really hate pigeons.

and squirrels too [youtube.com] ?

Re:Regardless of any 'sensitivities'... (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | about 5 months ago | (#47250919)

I can assure you that pigeon crap is a lot easier to clean up than mammoth crap.

Re:Regardless of any 'sensitivities'... (1)

Talderas (1212466) | about 5 months ago | (#47252947)

Easier to clean and far more toxic.

Re:Regardless of any 'sensitivities'... (1)

Cro Magnon (467622) | about 5 months ago | (#47253409)

Maybe, but very few mammoths pooped from the air!

Re:Regardless of any 'sensitivities'... (2)

Drishmung (458368) | about 5 months ago | (#47251283)

Apparently they were fairly awful creatures—flocks of a few million birds blackening the skies, decimating crops and crapping on everything.

Couldn't we direct our sympathies to a more like-able creature? Wooly mammoths or great awks, perhaps?

Because the thought of a few million woolly mammoths blackening the skies, decimating crops and crapping on everything is even more terrifying.

Re:Regardless of any 'sensitivities'... (1)

rolfwind (528248) | about 5 months ago | (#47252667)

A few million? Try a few billion. Imagine the cleanup effort of this flying and pooping over your place:

One flock in 1866 in southern Ontario was described as being 1 mi (1.5 km) wide and 300 mi (500 km) long, took 14 hours to pass, and held in excess of 3.5 billion birds.

Re:Regardless of any 'sensitivities'... (1)

Convector (897502) | about 5 months ago | (#47253399)

And for goodness sake, don't let them drive the bus.

Re:Regardless of any 'sensitivities'... (4, Insightful)

Stargoat (658863) | about 5 months ago | (#47249393)

No.

Humans poisoned the crap out of it with absolutely complete regard for the future of the species. Passenger Pigeons were regarded as a menace by early settlers, like locust. And like locust, they were eliminated. Yes, Passenger Pigeons were hunted, and yes, the last few thousand were likely killed by hunters. But the first 100,000,000 million were poisoned or had their trees cut down.

Re:Regardless of any 'sensitivities'... (2)

radtea (464814) | about 5 months ago | (#47249721)

Passenger Pigeons were regarded as a menace by early settlers, like locust. And like locust, they were eliminated.

To go from 136 million in 1871 to zero in 1900 (the year the last passenger pigeon was shot in the wild) would have taken a phenomenal killing effort. At that size of population the reproduction rate must have been getting on for 100 million new birds a year, and every bird killed must simply created a better chance that next year's young would survive, because they would be competing for food with a smaller flock.

Granted, the nesting areas were relatively small and therefore subject to easy destruction, but two (related) factors should also be taken into account: disease and invasive species (which could well have brought diseases with them.)

Although introduced to late to be the culprit with respect to passenger pigeons, the common starling is an example of the massive effect invasive species can have on local ecologies. Furthermore, the massive changes to the prairie eco-system as the result of farming must have had an effect as well.

So while hunting and wanton destruction of nesting habitat obviously didn't help, it's interesting to ask, "Could the passenger pigeon have survived even without deliberate attempts to kill it?" The answer is not obviously "yes" (nor is it obviously "no", which is why the question is interesting.)

In this context it is worth remembering that the exclusion zone around the worst civil nuclear disaster in human history is far, far better for the local wildlife that simply having a thriving human population in the area: http://www.slate.com/articles/... [slate.com] (the article incorrectly states that observations of wildlife diversity around Chernobyl depend on the assumption that radiation isn't as bad for animals as humans, but this has causality backward: it is simply a matter of empirical fact, backed up by systematic observations carefully ignored by critics, that wildlife diversity in the exclusion zone is as high as that in protected nature reserve.)

Re:Regardless of any 'sensitivities'... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47250067)

To go from 136 million in 1871 to zero in 1900

And from 5 billion 200 years earlier. What's your point?

The oceans contains millions of whales too. Now morons come up with half-hearted excuses list "too many whales in sea causes fish stock depletion" for the commercial "hunts".

http://www.whaling.jp/english/... [whaling.jp]

So yes, pigeons would have survived if people didn't kill them and destroy their habitat. Remember that favourite hunting area for them were the *nesting sites* being hit over and over again until everything was either too old to reproduce or there was nothing left.

Don't make excuses for people that caused extinctions.

Re:Regardless of any 'sensitivities'... (3, Informative)

tomhath (637240) | about 5 months ago | (#47250223)

Passenger pigeons had a unique roosting and nesting technique. They formed huge flocks in trees near a food source and stayed there while raising their young. When market hunters found a roost they would wait until night when the tree was full of birds and blast away with shotguns, killing thousands and destroying the nests. As the population declined there were fewer and fewer of those mass nesting sites, but when one was found it was eliminated. Eventually there weren't enough birds to form a proper colony and they couldn't nest anymore.

Re:Regardless of any 'sensitivities'... (1)

dgatwood (11270) | about 5 months ago | (#47251285)

Too bad folks haven't done the whole mass shotgun extinction trick with the European starlings. You've never seen such a mess as when a flock of those things descends on your yard. There's something inherently wrong about looking out at your yard and seeing nothing but black where the grass should be, because they've completely blotted out the ground. And the next morning, your sidewalk is practically solid white with bird crap. Just disgusting. I don't think "invasive species" quite covers it. :-)

Re:Regardless of any 'sensitivities'... (2)

Irate Engineer (2814313) | about 5 months ago | (#47251749)

Well, if someone does the "shotgun trick" with the starling, maybe in 30 years someone will be waxing poetically about the starling and how it used to cover the skies and the peculiar sound it made.

Live flocks of birds make noise and shit. Dead flocks of birds make ornithologists nostalgic.

Re:Regardless of any 'sensitivities'... (1)

Ol Olsoc (1175323) | about 5 months ago | (#47253201)

Well, if someone does the "shotgun trick" with the starling, maybe in 30 years someone will be waxing poetically about the starling and how it used to cover the skies and the peculiar sound it made.

Kinda like how you remember the days when kids didn't walk on your lawn.

Damn birds get on that lawn too.

Re:Regardless of any 'sensitivities'... (1)

sillybilly (668960) | about 5 months ago | (#47251351)

A protected nature reserve is protected from whom or what? From nature? From predators? No, it's protected from people. So high diversity in a nature reserve means high diversity in a zone protected from people. Same dam thing.

Re:Regardless of any 'sensitivities'... (2)

guises (2423402) | about 5 months ago | (#47249727)

The rocky mountain locust wasn't eliminated intentionally, that was just habitat destruction - they needed the great plains for breeding and the farmers took care of that. The passenger pigeon was hunted the same way we hunt fish now: with nets and with little regard for conservation. They were seen as a cheap source of protein, to be fed to pigs and slaves.

I wouldn't be surprised if there was some poisoning, but that wasn't a concerted effort. Congress did made a half-assed attempt to prevent their extinction towards the end there, so they clearly weren't trying to exterminate them. The last flock of 250,000 was killed by hunters, knowingly and deliberately, but that wasn't about extermination either. Reputedly they did it because they knew that this was going to be the last opportunity

Re:Regardless of any 'sensitivities'... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47255203)

more amazing to me: we also caused the only species of locusts of north America to become extinct, too. the Rocky Mountain locust. they were reputed to be the worst known size/swarming of all the locusts.

Re:Regardless of any 'sensitivities'... (1)

tlambert (566799) | about 5 months ago | (#47252105)

...we humans still hunted the crap out of it with absolutely no regard to the future of the species. I'd still say it was our fault.

Well, we certainly brought over the European pigeon variants of domestic, feral, ringneck, and rock dove, so it's certainly our fault for displacing them from their ecological niche with a more resilient invasive species. Somewhat the same as the English introducing Rabbits to Australia.

Funny how we don't seem to care enough about these particular invasive species to wipe them out from areas which are not their natural habitat, but we get our panties all in a bunch over other invasive species.

Here come the misanthropes (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47249301)

How DARE someone say humans aren't to blame!

Re:Here come the misanthropes (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 5 months ago | (#47249557)

No, it still concludes human were to blame. Just that it wasn't that impressive an achievement after all.

Re:Here come the misanthropes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47251189)

so should feel guilty for killing them, AND embarrased for both our inferior efforts and false pride in our place in the cosmos? I think that is the real "White Man's Burden" in a nutshell.

Re:Here come the misanthropes (1)

INT_QRK (1043164) | about 5 months ago | (#47249937)

Agreed. Serves the little buggers right for being so tasty.

Re:Here come the misanthropes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47250267)

How DARE someone say humans aren't to blame!

Of course humans are to blame, just like global warming...
It's just that humans aren't solely to blame, just like global warming...

I take something else from the study (4, Interesting)

Ken_g6 (775014) | about 5 months ago | (#47249305)

In discussion about potentially cloning passenger pigeons, there were concerns that the species needed huge flocks. As a result, there were concerns that cloning just a few wouldn't be enough to bring back the species.

Since this study showed that passenger pigeons had population crashes before and came back, this should alleviate the flock size concerns.

Re:I take something else from the study (1)

techno-vampire (666512) | about 5 months ago | (#47251111)

Yes, but there's still one problem: if you bring back the passenger pigeon in some sort of wildlife preserve and they outgrow their food supply, how are you going to get the flock out of there?

They fly ... (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | about 5 months ago | (#47251739)

if you bring back the passenger pigeon in some sort of wildlife preserve and they outgrow their food supply, how are you going to get the flock out of there?

You DO know that they fly, don't you?

Like in flocks of millions over continental distances?

Re:They fly ... (1)

techno-vampire (666512) | about 5 months ago | (#47251807)

You DO know that they fly, don't you?

I have one, and only one thing to say in reply: WHOOSH!

Much in the same way... (1)

istartedi (132515) | about 5 months ago | (#47249347)

Much in the same way that Slashdot isn't entirely responsible for the "503, Service Unavailable" message I got when trying to follow the link.

What's the Deal? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47249375)

What's the deal with the spate of ideologically-driven "scientific" studies appearing in the last couple of years? The first really blatant one I am aware of was the "organic food isn't more nutritious" study, which completely deflected from the point of organic food altogether. It was obviously a piece designed to confuse lay people into thinking organic food didn't have additional health benefits over conventionally-grown food. Now we see this piece, claiming that a species genetically equipped to survive huge fluctuations in population over millions of years was really just going to go extinct anyway and we just happened to be there to see it. These people should be blacklisted from scientific journals. They're not academically honest in the slightest.

Re:What's the Deal? (2)

dnavid (2842431) | about 5 months ago | (#47249577)

What's the deal with the spate of ideologically-driven "scientific" studies appearing in the last couple of years? The first really blatant one I am aware of was the "organic food isn't more nutritious" study, which completely deflected from the point of organic food altogether. It was obviously a piece designed to confuse lay people into thinking organic food didn't have additional health benefits over conventionally-grown food. Now we see this piece, claiming that a species genetically equipped to survive huge fluctuations in population over millions of years was really just going to go extinct anyway and we just happened to be there to see it. These people should be blacklisted from scientific journals. They're not academically honest in the slightest.

If you read the actual study, the scientists didn't say that. The article only says that the rapid population spikes and crashes the passenger pigeon experienced made it more vulnerable to humans. "Here we use both genomic and ecological analyses to show that the passenger pigeon was not always super abundant, but experienced dramatic population fluctuations, which could increase its vulnerability to human exploitation." Furthermore, the point of the study was not to suggest that humans had no effect on passenger pigeons, but rather that even species with very large populations could be vulnerable to extinction pressures caused by humans if they are also vulnerable to the same effects that caused the passenger pigeon population swings. Nowhere do I see the article in question exonerate human effects from extinction.

Re:What's the Deal? (2)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 5 months ago | (#47249593)

Scientists like to be topical, and even when they aren't it's easy for their findings to be given a political spin or viewed through a political lens.

I don't know how respectable this research is, because I don't care enough to actually read it, and even if I did I am not remotely qualified to judge something in this field. I do know that even if the research is perfectly valid and the authors don't care about politics at all, it'll still aquire a political spin in the process of being turned into popular reporting. The left will go for the 'earth is delicate than we thought, so we must protect it' angle. The right will go for the 'Wiping out a species is really hard, and those pigeons were just a special case, so we can stop protecting the desert tortoise and give Bundy back his grazing land' angle.

Re:What's the Deal? (0)

sexconker (1179573) | about 5 months ago | (#47250259)

What's the deal with the spate of ideologically-driven "scientific" studies appearing in the last couple of years? The first really blatant one I am aware of was the "organic food isn't more nutritious" study, which completely deflected from the point of organic food altogether. It was obviously a piece designed to confuse lay people into thinking organic food didn't have additional health benefits over conventionally-grown food. Now we see this piece, claiming that a species genetically equipped to survive huge fluctuations in population over millions of years was really just going to go extinct anyway and we just happened to be there to see it. These people should be blacklisted from scientific journals. They're not academically honest in the slightest.

The majority of the scientific studies the media reports on are barely scientific, involve little study, and are mainly geared toward pushing ideology.
It has been this way for decades.

Re:What's the Deal? (3, Interesting)

TapeCutter (624760) | about 5 months ago | (#47251299)

You have it backwards, the media spins the results of science for percieved political gain, not the other way around. There is absolutely nothing political about the claim that other factors may have played a part in their extinction.

As to the organic food study: Nutrition may not be "the point" in your mind, but there were certainly plenty of charlatans promoting it, there's even a 1970's clip on YT somewhere with Feynman himself having a go at the 'unscientific' claims of better nutrition from organically grow crops. The nutritional study injected facts into a factual vacum, even if nobody was interested in the study it is still worthy of publication. Nobody denies the health benfits of washing the copper-sulphate off your industrially grown tomatos before eating them (except maybe the pesticide company), but the study presented strong evidence that a tomato is a tomato no matter where it obtains the atoms that constitute it's genetically programmed flesh.

If you're finding politics and ideology in evidence based statement like either of those studies, it's not because the scientists put it there, you did that yourself while you were looking for reasons to reject the findings.

Disclaimer: I've been a "greenie" since the 70's, if the above findings are somehow an inconviennce to green politics then so be it, I want my government to formulate laws and policies that respect evidence, and adapt when contrary evidence is found. I want our politicins to be more like our scientists and engineers, get off their ideological high horses and get on with the job.

Re:What's the Deal? (1)

sexconker (1179573) | about 5 months ago | (#47255565)

If you're finding politics and ideology in evidence based statement like either of those studies, it's not because the scientists put it there, you did that yourself while you were looking for reasons to reject the findings.

Studies are funded by entities with biases, thus the studies have desired outcomes. The institutions that get the grants are the ones who can get the desired outcomes. It's not just the social "sciences" and hot "issues" like climate change. Even the hard sciences fall victim to this. It doesn't matter if you're trotting out an insignificant cock and bull story about why some species died or if you're hiding how many people your experimental drug killed.
Science is subject to the same power dynamics as everything else in society. People want power and will do dirty things to get it. Power in our society is related to money, political status, celebrity, and, as always, sex.

I have no idea why you responded to me with any of the other stuff in your post. I said nothing about organic foods. I said nothing about any specific study - I'm merely pointing out that science isn't some sacred cow immune to bias, influence, and impropriety. The vast majority of research is improperly influenced to various degrees. Research the media reports on is improperly influenced to higher degrees than research the media ignores. This is a simple result of the media reporting on what's interesting to viewers - controversial or divisive topics get trotted out, benign topics get ignored.

Re:What's the Deal? (2)

david_thornley (598059) | about 5 months ago | (#47258203)

Science has ways of dealing with bias, influence, and impropriety. It can take a while, but it works.

Scientific institutions are usually devoted to finding things out. It's not easy to get most scientists to deliver a predetermined result, partly because people who do that tend not to become scientists, and partly because it can be devastating to one's reputation if found out. A peer-reviewed scientific paper is about as close to truthful and reliable as you're likely to get.

Science journalism can be very good. However, it often suffers from journalists not understanding the science, and not understanding how science works. Journalists tend to go for the sensational stories, and they often try to show both sides, even when one side is clearly correct. Journalists, on the whole, are far less reliable than scientists.

Re:What's the Deal? (1)

Ol Olsoc (1175323) | about 5 months ago | (#47253153)

What's the deal with the spate of ideologically-driven "scientific" studies appearing in the last couple of years? The first really blatant one I am aware of was the "organic food isn't more nutritious" study, which completely deflected from the point of organic food altogether.

It isn't more nutritious. What it is is lacking is some key nutrition components, like Roundup.

But all joking aside, it's better by virtue of what it lacks.

Feral pigeons taste good also (1)

cyberspittle (519754) | about 5 months ago | (#47249415)

Nothing beats squab and rice

Re:Feral pigeons taste good also (1)

517714 (762276) | about 5 months ago | (#47250137)

Squab, by definition, are young domestic pigeons.

squab (1)

rossdee (243626) | about 5 months ago | (#47252537)

"Squab, by definition, are young domestic pigeons."

I thought it was a seat or couch cushion

FD: IANA Paleornithologist (1)

rmdingler (1955220) | about 5 months ago | (#47249625)

But.

An edible bird that was in direct competition with humans for nuts, berries, and cultivated grain happened to go extinct as these selfsame bipeds were settling a continent where the pigeons had previously flourished.

The causation is strong with this one.

And exactly why should I care? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47251117)

Will someone please tell me what is so precious about a pidgeon?

I wipe out the dandelions in my lawn ... and do the environmentalists rage on about that?

People kill billions of chickens every year and serve them up with alfredo sauce or cut up in nugget-sized pieces. Where's all the hoopla about that?

The point of this study was not to prove the environmentalists wrong. It was to gain a better understanding of what really happened. Heaven forbid if mankind should ever apply that magic thing called SCIENCE.

Phew! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47251287)

That's a load off my back!

On a serious note, we competed with these birds for food/nuts etc. Survival of the fittest would seem to apply

Blame the Victim (1)

Greyfox (87712) | about 5 months ago | (#47251721)

If the damn things hadn't been so delicious, they'd still be around!

Re:Blame the Victim (1)

Ol Olsoc (1175323) | about 5 months ago | (#47253097)

If the damn things hadn't been so delicious, they'd still be around!

If humans hadn't been so damn stupid about it, we'd be eating them for dinner tonight.

Clone them for food (1)

Zawahiri (963352) | about 5 months ago | (#47251737)

Passenger pigeons must have been so delicious. Think about it.

What a bunch of revisionist crap (1)

Squidlips (1206004) | about 5 months ago | (#47253213)

This sensationalist crap is just an excuse to get some publicity. Climate change had nothing to do with the pigeon's demise. It operates too slowly and migratory birds are not that sensitive because they can move around to find food sources. It was hunting, greed, and avarice. Nothing more.
Check for New Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?