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Felicity Arengo

OLogy Series
ologist
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311

Felicity Arengo

OLogy Series
ologist

When most people think of flamingos, they imagine the delicate pink bird wading in a warm and sunny tropical marsh. Not Felicity Arengo. As a conservation biologist, she has spent over 10 years studying the behaviors and habitats of these unusual birds. She investigates flamingos of the Altiplano of South America--a cold, windy plateau in the Andes Mountains. She also works to protect their wetland habitats.

Tracking Flamingos
Felicity Arengo and her team study three species of flamingos in South America: Andean, Chilean, and James. With the help of dozens of volunteers, they have counted flamingos in over 200 wetlands. They found that the Andean flamingo is the rarest in the world.

Felicity was also interested in where the Andean flamingo moves during the year. To find out, she and her team tagged individual birds with transmitters that can be tracked with satellites. They discovered that during the winter, they escape the frozen lakes of the plateau for warmer lakes in the lowlands. But it seems no matter where flamingos are, human activity is threatening their wetlands habitat. On the plateau, mining is polluting high-altitude lakes. In the lowlands, ranchers drain lakes to grow crops and graze animals.

Felicity is working with local scientists, governments, and conservation groups to protect these habitats--not just for the flamingos, but for all the organisms that live in the wetlands.

Dr. Arengo and her team study flamingos on the Altiplano of South America. It's a difficult place to study because of:

freezing temperatures

a lack of oxygen

both of these

Are you right?

Correct!

The air is thin because of the high altitude, so the team uses oxygen tanks to help them breathe. They also face freezing temperatures and powerful winds that whip across the barren plateau.

Felicity believes the flamingo is a perfect flagship species. A flagship species is a species that:

is the top predator in a threatened habitat

represents a habitat at risk of disappearing

would look good on a flag

Are you right?

Correct!

Flamingos are familiar, unusual, and captivating. They are an ideal flagship species to represent the wetlands. Conservationists hope this flagship species can help raise awareness about the need to protect the wetlands.

Felicity Arengo, conservation biologist

In the Andes, the flamingos seem a little bit out of place... these little dainty pink birds living in this rough landscape. But they're some of the best adapted animals to that habitat.

Felicity Arengo, conservation biologist

The flamingos I study
live in an area that spans Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, and Chile. They know no borders, so they bring people from all these countries together.

Tropical and high-altitude flamingos have similar diets.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fact

In all locations, flamingos live in salty wetlands packed with tiny organisms. Flamingos filter these organisms out of the water with their curved bills.

Hometown: Mohegan Lake, New York
Job: Associate Director, Center for Biodiversity & Conservation
Education: MSc & PhD State University of NY, College of Environmental Science & Forestry
Current Work: Flamingo and wetland research and conservation in the Americas
Research Locations: Andes, Caribbean
Cool Fact: The Andes can be so cold that Felicity has seen flamingos walking on ice!

Image credits: courtesy of AMNH / F. Arengo; Felicity Arengo: courtesy of AMNH / F. Arengo; Felicity Arengo: courtesy of AMNH / F. Arengo.