The results show large changes in the diets of aerial insectivores, or birds such as swallows, swifts, martins and whip-poor-wills that consume insects while in mid-flight.
Today, the bulk of the birds’ diet is made up of small insects at the lower end of the food web, or at a lower “trophic” level, the researchers say.
“Higher up on a trophic level might be steak,” said Joe Nocera, an assistant professor of forestry and environmental management at the University of New Brunswick and one of the authors of the paper.
“Lower on a trophic level might be a salad. You’d have to eat a lot more salad to make up for that steak.”
Choice of insects shrinks
For example, whip-poor-wills today still have to eat insects, Nocera said, but what they have to choose from isn’t as beneficial as it was 100 years ago.
“It’s a species that used to be common in New Brunswick, but isn’t anymore,” Nocera said. “So we looked at Ontario populations. And we wanted to know what’s driving their population declines over the past century.”
Nocera said most species of aerial insectivores, including swifts and swallows, have been in severe decline and he thinks it’s most likely a response to declines in insect populations.
“But we don’t know that,” he said. “We have terrible historical records on insect abundance in history.”
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