According to research conducted by the University of Connecticut, finches in the Galapagos Islands are negatively effected by the consumption of junk food. While this revelation amplifies the already well-founded drawbacks of a lackluster diet in humans, it also reveals that wildlife continues to be at risk as a result of certain human behavior.
Apparently, finches that consume unnatural junk food experience alterations to their gut microbiota and body mass that do not occur in finches that don’t come into contact with the food. Essentially, this means that the delicate balance of bacteria within the digestive tract imperative for proper health gets upset as a result of this food, contributing to the negative aspects of changing body mass.
UConn researchers tested finches in areas frequented by humans and compared the results with finches from areas in which human activity was scant. The findings indicate that the birds in areas with high rates of human contact conflated human food with food of their own to be eaten. Comparatively, the finches in areas without frequent human contact did not view human food as edible.
The birds that ate junk food left by humans were, of course, the sufferers of documented negative effects. According to Sarah Knutie, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UConn, “(F)inches living in areas where there is a lot of human activity have different gut microbiota than those living in areas with less human activity.” The finches in urban areas with human contact were markedly larger with higher body masses than their rural counterparts. Interestingly enough, the urban finches were six to 13 percent heavier than the birds that did not experience human contact, according to Knutie.
The ultimate consequences here could be dire.
“Since gut microbiota can affect the immune system, junk food finches may have a different immune system response to an invasive parasite than finches that feed on their natural diet,” Knutie said. While further research must be conducted, there is evidence to suggest that the consumption of junk food by these birds has a negative impact on their health. It’s well documented that particular foods are damaging to human health, but those effects are also felt by surrounding wildlife.
At this point, one thing is for certain: Either the wildlife is going to have to adapt, or humans are going to have to literally clean up their act. Only time and future studies will tell. Thankfully for those concerned, researchers at the University of Connecticut are likely already hard at work.