Rising temperatures trigger changed reactions in animal populations in the Arctic, which could have an enormous impact on the future of the northernmost region of the world.
The results will be explored in a new scientific article on ecological insights from three decades of tracking animal movements in a changing Arctic, published tomorrow (November 6) in the prestigious journal Science.
The data was collected in a new Arctic Animal Movement Archive (AAMA), a collection of 201 terrestrial and marine animal tracking studies spanning 21 years and growing. It contains the tracking data of high arctic wetland birds provided by the nature conservation organization WWT.
WWT’s research officer, Kane Brides, contributed to the study. He said:
“The Arctic is entering a new ecological phase that may entail enormous costs for humanity.
“However, it can be difficult to track these changes and their impact on the various species that inhabit these vast expanses, which include barren land, arctic seas and boreal forests.
Barnacle Geese, Copyright Glyn Sellors, from the Surfbirds Galleries
“The creation of the AAMA facilitates research into and insight into the changing behavior of Arctic species and preserves important basic data for the future. It’s great to see that WWT tracking data is being used and made available to address urgent issues around the Arctic. “
Nowhere in the world are experts seeing such rapid change as in the Arctic, where the main culprit, greenhouse gas emissions, trigger warmer winter temperatures and ice losses that affect food availability, competition and the predator of animals. Experts note differences in seasonal vegetation and changes in migration and foraging.
As part of this global study, WWT exchanged vast amounts of data on high Arctic wetland birds, including the Svalbard geese from Svalbard and Greenland, which the Trust’s chief species officer, Larry Griffin, has been flagging since 2006.
Barnacle geese returning to the Solway Firth in the UK have arrived with fewer and fewer young in the past decade. This is likely due to a combination of factors including increased predatory keeping of island nests by polar bears, who are now no longer as effective for feeding on seals, and also decoupling of the rate of vegetation development between staging and hatchery sites. Although the geese try to arrive at their breeding grounds earlier each year, sometimes foregoing traditional abode, the fresh source of vegetation they need for their young ripens too quickly before they hatch under the changing climate.
Migration plans can also get into turmoil in the warmer autumn months. When Greenland white geese linger in Iceland because fresh grass grows on the improved pastures and stubble in the warmer conditions, they increasingly expose themselves to illegal hunting or more violent Atlantic storms when they finally try to make the crossing to Scotland or Ireland. Tracking and tagging data suggests that the taiga bean geese may also stay longer on the continent or avoid Scotland altogether and simply stop over for the winter in Denmark.
Larry Griffin added:
“These are all big changes that happen before our eyes every year as we process the tracking data from these birds.
“The AAMA drive is to harness the power of big data, increase sample sizes and comparisons between trajectories through collaborative studies, and bring together affected scientists and organizations with skills from a variety of research areas to better analyze and diagnose the problems for arctic species or guilds are possible.
“It’s fantastic that WWT is part of this collective to help us document these environmental changes in the Arctic, where the effects of climate change are happening faster and more dramatically than anywhere else in the world.”