Tulane researchers studying mockingbird songs to gauge effects of lead pollution


 

A mockingbird perched on a branch in Mexico. (Dennis Jarvis/Flickr)
A mockingbird perched on a branch in Mexico. (Dennis Jarvis/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | January 20, 2015

Researchers at Tulane University in New Orleans are studying songs sung by mockingbirds to determine the effects of lead levels in the environment.

Dr. Renata Ribeiro – an adjunct professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology – has been studying the Northern Mockingbird. As the name implies, these birds often imitate the songs sang by other birds as well as car alarms, emergency sirens, and other sounds. The singing ability of male mockingbirds is crucial to finding a mate.

Ribeiro and other researchers are studying how the Northern Mockingbird and its songs are affected by lead pollution which contaminates much of the soil in The Big Easy. A 2011 study by Tulane University found that nearly two-thirds of New Orleans homes and yards contain “dangerous” levels of lead. Researchers attributed the high levels of lead to the demolition and renovation of houses after Hurricane Katrina as well as the large number of homes constructed before lead was banned from house paint in 1978. The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality has also reported air quality concerns in the state’s biggest city. Exposure to unsafe levels of lead and other environmental pollution has been tied to learning disabilities in children as well as neurological damage in animals.

Ribeiro’s efforts are part of a one-year study sponsored by the Morris Animal Foundation. She and her team will return to the field next month as the birds become more active again in preparation for mating season.

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