Does the availability of shade limit use of water troughs by desert birds?
Climate change poses a major threat to living organisms, with maximum temperatures expected to continue to rise over the next few decades. Hot desert environments are particularly at risk because they experience high environmental temperatures, scarce vegetation, low productivity and unpredictable water sources. Endotherms such as birds face the challenge of maintaining a stable body temperature while avoiding dehydration. This study was carried out in the southern Kalahari, in South Africa's Northern Cape, where about 50% of bird species (36 species) depend on free-standing drinking water. Livestock farms within this area provide artificial water points, which benefit birds as well as livestock. This study determined the role of shade and cover in the use of these artificial water points by birds. An experiment was conducted at six waterholes using the Before-After, Control-Impact (BACI) design. After an initial baseline was established, three waterholes were shaded while the other three were left unshaded. Camera traps were used to record the pattern and intensity of water use by bird species at different times of the day and at varying air temperatures. A total of 36 bird species drank at the water holes, but data analysis was confined to the ten most abundant species. Of the ten, six species responded to the presence of shade/cover, with four species reacting positively (Cape Glossy Starling Lamprotornis nitens , Red - headed Finch Amadina erythrocephala , Black - throated Canary Serinus atrogularis , and Laughing Dove Spilopelia senegalensis , four showing no significant change in drinking patterns, and two showing a decrease in visitor numbers when the site was shaded (Cape Turtle - Dove Streptopelia capicola, Namaqua Dove Oena capensis). This suggests that providing shade at waterholes is not a universal solution to the problem of increasing heat stress experienced by birds coming to drink. Certain species such as the Laughing Doves and Cape Turtle-Doves avoided waterholes during the warmest time of the day while the Namaqua Doves were frequent visitors at this time. However, the Laughing Dove took advantage of the shade provided at midday (warmest temperatures) as their numbers increased. The Red-headed Finch and Black-throated Canary also increased at water holes with temperature irrespective of the time of day. These patterns imply that the provision of shade modifies the behavior of some bird species in response to predation risk or heat stress. These species utilized shade at different times of day and with varying intensities as temperatures rose.
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