Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Bird behaviour and environmental health in the context of anthropogenic threats to wildlife and nature in China

We study the link between the acoustic, behavioral and physiological health of birds and prominent pollution factors. We aim to explore causation through experimental studies on detrimental factors like traffic noise, particulate matter and chemical toxins. Our primary target is scientific progress in order to raise awareness about the importance of healthy environments for birds and humans alike.

2016 - 2020
Hans Slabbekoorn
Institute of Biology Leiden Institute of Biology Leiden
Dobberke Foundation for Comparative Psychology Dobberke Foundation for Comparative Psychology

China has a rapidly growing economy, which typically goes at the expense of ecology. There is also still a high diversity of amazing bird life and many Chinese are bird lovers. Sadly, much of this love is translated into catching, killing, eating or selling birds. Especially many migratory bird species are therefore declining and several have reached vulnerable population sizes.

However, things are changing in China. Bird catchers and keepers are typically among the first to realize that birds are beautiful and even look better when alive and in freedom. The number of bird watchers are growing and also nature photography gains popularity. Also biologists are increasingly interested in studying behaviour, ecology and evolution of birds, which will yield understanding that may be critical for public and political awareness and sensible conservation efforts.

Sustainable development will benefit health of both birds and humans. More behavioural studies in the context of human-altered environments can play a key role in undermining the notion of inherent conflict between economy and ecology. A better understanding  of underlying  mechanisms may for example provide opportunities for avoiding conflict through spatial or temporal release and yield future prosperity for both the economy and ecology in China.

  • Yang, X.-J. & Slabbekoorn, H. 2014. Timing vocal behavior: Lack of temporal overlap avoidance to fluctuating noise levels in singing Eurasian wrens. Behavioural Processes 108: 131–137
  • Xing, X., Slabbekoorn, H., Campbell, J., Li, F. & Ma, J. 2017. Distinct song parts of the endemic marsh grassbird of China vary with latitude and climate among migratory and sedentary populations. Evolutionary Ecology 31: 63–76
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