Can Pizza Affect A Bird’s Fishiness?

Fishiness of Piscine Birds Linked to Absence of Poisonous Fungi but not Pizza (2020) Stervander & Haelewaters, Oceanography and Fisheries, 12(5), DOI:10.19080/OFOAJ.2020.12.555850.

The Crux

One of the most worrying things about the global phenomena that is climate change is that we are so uncertain of its exact effects on our planet’s biodiversity. There are the more obvious questions that need to be asked, like how will warming temperatures affect species ranges, and will cold-tolerant species face significant population losses?

Yet there are other less obvious concerns out there which need to be tested. For instance, seeing as there are far more fish-like birds in Antarctica, do colder temperatures lead to birds being more fish-like? And will a warming climate therefore lead to a world devoid of fishy birds? This week’s researchers had a different theory, and used some interesting statistical techniques to test it out. The project was inspired by a particularly memorable pizza consumed by one of the researchers, in that it looked at “fishiness, birdiness, lack of fungal toxicity, and effects of prolonged heating”*.

What They Did

Bird species were randomly selected by throwing darts at a board willed with the names of different species. These birds were then carefully assigned values on the birdiness/fishiness scale. The initial random selection showed bias towards more birdy birds, and as a result two species of penguins were added, as were several birdy-looking fish for good measure.

The species were then analysed using an ordination technique (basically analysing their similarity) on the birdiness-fishiness scale, comparing these values to their values on two novel fungal proxies, mushrooms toxicity and pizza toppingness. This was intended to gauge whether or not birdiness of birds could be attributed to variations on either of these novel fungal scales.

Did You Know: Predatory Journals

If you hadn’t already twigged by this stage, this paper that I’m summarising is not a serious scientific paper in the traditional sense. Off the back of Professor Dan Baldassare’s inspired article What is the Deal With Birdsthis paper is the latest in a series of comedic efforts that serve to both test the limits and highlight the nature of a subset of scientific journals which will accept pretty much anything, given the right price. While this may seem amusing, there is a darker side to these journals. Younger researchers are often tricked into publishing in them, lured by the possibility of having their first work published. This can potentially tarnish a researcher’s reputation, as well as cost a packet in publishing fees.

Please go and read this paper though (link again here). It is more hilarious than any half-cocked summary of it can ever be.

What They Found

There were some definite patterns picked up by the analysis here, with highly fishy birds often associated with low levels of poisonous fungi, and more birdy birds (and also birdy fish) generally associated with medium to high values of pizza toppingness.

Image Credit: Stervander & Haelewaters, 2020


I have two main issues here. While avoiding GLMs on the grounds of laziness is very indicative of the lack of resources attributed to climate change even now, I would have appreciated a look at the link between pizza-toppingness and ambient temperature (of both the pizza in question and species distribution range).

Additionally, the range of species chosen seems quite restricted. More diverse species like the herring gull and the Sharknado sharks may have made for a more holistic analysis.

So What?

While many changes in both species ecology and physiology may be attributed to climate change, its important to remember that there are other more immediate factors that can be addressed. On that note this paper gives several tangible solutions to natural resource managers and conservationists, in that if we want to ensure the persistence of fishy birds, we should minimise their proximity to poisonous fungi, though putting them on pizza is fine.

Sam Perrin is a freshwater ecologist currently completing his PhD at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology who wants to reassure his audience that we’ll be publishing serious scientific content again by next week. You can read more about his research and the rest of the Ecology for the Masses writers here, see more of his work at Ecology for the Masses here, or follow him on Twitter here.

* The pizza contained anchovies, chicken, and (presumably non-toxic) mushrooms.

Title Image Credit: Saifin, CC0 1.0

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