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Is this the end of migration?

April 22, 2010

From The Independent UK

“Long-distance migrators are travelling shorter distances, shorter-distance migrators are becoming sedentary,” says Mr Ferrer, who works for Spain’s Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) in the Doñana National Park, one of the key European “stopovers” in bird migration routes. “That has a knock-on effect on almost everything they do, from breeding habits to feeding habits to their genetic diversity, which in turn affects other organisms in their food chain. It’s a huge behavioural change, forced on them by rising temperatures.”

“Climate change and environmental change are simultaneously forcing migratory birds to adapt extremely quickly,” says Ian Newton, a Royal Society member and lifelong researcher into the subject. But if the adaption process is necessarily far faster than the last comparable geophysical phenomenon, the Ice Age, this time round it may not be anywhere near as successful.

“Fossil evidence suggests that in the Ice Age migration patterns changed, but now it’s not such an easy option. The worldwide landscape is much more fragmented because of human activity. Put simply, it’s not the same for a bird to try to adapt to the environment in Manhattan as it is in the Maldives.”

Apart from migration changes, the birds’ other option in the face of a fast-heating environment is fast-track evolution. This time there is evidence they are doing both. Reduction of wingspan sizes and changes in beak shapes have already been recorded. In another recent discovery, Francisco Pulido of the Complutense University in Madrid has ascertained that the recent shifts in migratory patterns are not necessarily temporary: rather for some birds, they’re genetic.

 From The Independent UK

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