By Sindya N. Bhanoo, The New York Times, February 24, 2014
To survive the destruction of forests in its island habitat, a rare bird called the Mauritius kestrel has adopted a new strategy, researchers say: Live fast and die young.
Native forest now makes up only 2 percent of the land area of Mauritius, an island nation in the Indian Ocean. So the birds have been forced to nest in sugarcane fields.
Kestrels living in agricultural areas have more offspring earlier in life and also die earlier — “a sort of speeding-up of the pace of life,” said Samantha J. Cartwright, an ecologist at the University of Reading in England and an author of a new study about the birds in the journal Current Biology.
Birds in both forested and agricultural areas “ultimately produce the same number of offspring in life,” she added.
That the birds are now resilient to changes in their habitat is a good sign, she said. Kestrels have been through some troubling times.
By 1974, after years of habitat loss and the use of pesticides like DDT, the kestrel population on Mauritius was down to four. Today, there are about 400.
Dr. Cartwright and her colleagues used 23 years of detailed data gathered on some of these birds.
“We know where they were born, who they bred with, how many chicks they had,” she said. Despite the apparent success of the Mauritius kestrel, the study shows that human activities can have drastic effects on wild animals, she said, adding, “Other species might not react in the same way and may not be as resilient.”