February 2018

Vol. 46, No. 1

Gleanings: Getting Lost

David M. Larson

Let's face it, we all can get lost, or at least a mite bewildered. Usually, the consequences are not dire—consult a map, check your phone or GPS device, even ask random strangers. But what happens when birds get lost, especially birds that migrate solo and at night? While we rarely know what happens to those lost wanderers, undoubtedly predation, starvation, and exposure all take their toll. You could argue that any bird that flies in the wrong direction on migration is an evolutionary dead end. But what if the problem is not with genetics but is caused by human intervention? What if one of the reasons is poisoning by pesticides?

Many environmental groups and governmental agencies have become increasingly worried about the effects of insecticides on birds, especially the commonly-used organophosphate and neonicotinoid compounds. Organophosphates such as chlorpyrifos (CPF) are usually scattered in granular form on crops, and neonicotinoids such as imidacloprid (IMI) are generally applied directly to seeds. Both are widely found in soil after application. Both classes of insecticides are neurotoxic: CFP is an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor and IMI is a nicotinic acetylcholine receptor antagonist.

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