From Mad Cows to Crows

Interesting causal connections made in this paper from European mad cows to North American birds and crops. Turns out that European BSE outbreaks drove higher U.S. grassland bird populations.

Population trends of grassland birds in North America are linked to the prevalence of an agricultural epizootic in Europe


Globalization of trade has dramatic socioeconomic effects, and, intuitively, significant ecological effects should follow. However, few quantitative examples exist of the interrelationship of globalization, socioeconomics, and ecological patterns. We present a striking illustration of a cascade in which bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE; “mad cow disease”) outbreaks in Europe exerted pressure on global beef markets, subsequently affecting North American hayfields and grassland bird populations. We examined competing models, which linked the prevalence of BSE in five focal countries, volume of beef exports to those countries from North America, and the amount of hayfield harvested and the abundance of grassland birds in North America. We found that (i) imports from North America increased 1 y after BSE outbreaks; (ii) probably because fewer cattle remained, the hay harvest in North America was reduced 2 y after the outbreak; (iii) the reduced hay harvest yielded a positive response in grassland bird populations 3 y after the outbreak.