Urban Wildlife Transformation: AI Study Reveals Seagulls’ Shift from Natural to City Habitats. Seagulls Ditch Beach Life for City Living, AI Reveals! The brainiacs at the University of Alaska Fairbanks have gone full tech-nerd with artificial intelligence to spy on short-billed gulls swapping their beach towels for urban digs, as reported in the high-brow journal, Ecological Informatics.
Once upon a time, gulls were all about the seaside vacay, chilling by the coast, munching on creepy crawlies, fish, and the occasional unlucky smaller bird. But these feathery rebels are now hanging out in places usually reserved for garbage-loving ravens, like the glitzy parking lots of supermarkets and fast-food joints, not to mention fancy human-made spots like industrial gravel pads and dumpsters that are haute couture in bird world.
This groundbreaking study, the first to use citizen science and some opportunistic snooping over three years, has caught a whole flock of these gulls and other sub-Arctic birdies turning urban in Alaska. It’s like a real-time bird reality show, but with more dumpsters.
Leading the geek squad is UAF professor Falk Huettmann, who, with his team, turned to artificial intelligence modeling, feeding it environmental gossip from various hotspots to predict where these gulls might crash next. They even peeked into U.S. census data and urban stats, like how close these birds were to roads, eateries, waterways, and the all-important waste transfer stations.
Moriz Steiner, a grad student in Huettmann’s lab, was all about using these socioeconomic datasets, calling it a ‘game-changer’ because it lets them play Sims with gull life, making the models as close to reality TV as possible.
Urban Wildlife Transformation: AI Study Reveals Seagulls’ Shift from Natural to City Habitats
Turns out, these gulls are trading in their natural pads for city life because of the all-you-can-eat human food buffet and our own industrial makeovers. Huettmann says they’re cashing in on the ‘waste opportunity’ left by us humans. The gulls, formerly known as mew gulls until 2021 (because why not change your name when you move to the city?), are not just opportunists but also health hazards on wings.
While scoring free fast food might sound like a dream, for gulls, it’s a greasy path to an early grave, thanks to all the salt, fat, sugar, and other nasties. Plus, they’re flying disease factories, spreading lovely things like avian flu and salmonella to their new urban neighbors. Some studies even trace the first gull-caused salmonella outbreak back to 1959 in Ketchikan, North America.
Huettmann, doubling as a professor in the UAF College of Natural Science and Mathematics, points out that these findings show a shift in what we consider ‘wildlife.’ It’s a wake-up call about how our human shenanigans are reshaping nature. And with AI in their toolkit, these researchers hope to become the superheroes of wildlife conservation. Stay tuned for the next episode of ‘Gulls Gone Wild’!
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