Can we save the Golden-winged Warbler by burning the place down?

One of my dreams was (and still is) to describe a new species, preferably a bird species. Other biologists have had the same objective and sometimes they were too eager and labelled individuals as members of a new species, although they were not. Two nice examples are the Brewster’s Warbler (Vermivora leucobronchialis) and the Lawrence’s Warbler (V. lawrencei). They were described in 1874 , but turned out to be the result of hybridization between Golden-winged Warbler (V. chrysoptera) and Blue-winged Warbler (V. cyanoptera).

A Hybrid between Golden-winged and Blue-winged Warbler
Lawrence’s Warbler: A Hybrid between Golden-winged and Blue-winged Warbler

Burn, Motherf***er, Burn!

In the United States, the Blue-winged Warbler is expanding northwards and replacing his closely-related cousin, the Golden-winged Warbler. Hybridization seems to be speeding up this process. A recent study now proposes a peculiar management tactic: fire. Richard King and his colleagues performed an elaborate analysis on the territories of these Warblers and found that fire can lead to habitat partitioning between them. Moreover, fire might even create habitat conditions that favor the endangered Golden-winged Warbler over its competitor. Fire is also used for habitat management of the rare Kirtland’s Warbler (Setophaga kirtlandii). So, let’s burn the place down!

Kirtland's Warbler
Kirtland’s Warbler

And as an extra: “Fire Water Burn” by the Bloodhound Gang.


King, R., Boysen, J., Brenneman, J., Cong, R., & Hunter, T. (2015). Fire created habitat partitioning and isolation between hybridizing warblers Ecosphere, 6 (3) DOI: 10.1890/ES14-00320.1


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