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A skin allergy unraveled why Blue and Yellow Macaws visit clay licks.

Kurt Holle

Why is eastern Peru a clay lick hotspot? See the heat map below. Alan Lee plotted it after asking hundreds of Amazonian colleagues to pinpoint parrot and macaw clay licks they knew of in their locations. Sure enough – most were in eastern Peru. From an ecological perspective lets call it the Western Amazon. Great. But Why?

 

Map of Macaw Clay Licks in the Amazon Basin

Map of Clay Lick Distribution in South America by Alan Lee 

 

The reason came to Alan as he was scratching his skin on the Brazilian layover from South Africa to Peru. In the Brazilian coast, his skin allergy to salt would flair up. By the time Alan got to Tambopata, his research location, his skin was balmy again.

He connected. Tambopata is far from the Atlantic Ocean to the east. The Andes block the Pacific Ocean from the west. The net result is that there is little to no salt in the air. That explained his balmy skin. Could it also explain his map?

No salt in the air, means no salt in the rain, nor the soil, nor the fruits. No salt in the fruits means diminished salt availability for fruit eaters, such as macaws. Salt is essential for several biochemical processes. Too little potassium for example, and you will cramp up right away. So macaws need salt. But in Tambopata, they cant get enough of it. So they head to the clay lick.

Elsewhere? There is plenty of salt in the air because he Atlantic Ocean is closer. The salt is incorporated by the waters, soils and fruits, and there is no need to attend clay licks.

So thanks to the absence of salts we get to see stunning Blue and Yellow macaw on clay licks. And thanks to Alan allergy we get to know why.

As usual heres the link to the paper.

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