Impacts of Climate-Driven Changes in Spring Green-Up on Migratory Birds in Alaska

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Migratory birds are important for recreation and tourism, contributing to a vibrant birdwatching industry in Alaska. Every spring, hundreds of birds migrate to their summer breeding grounds in Alaska and northern Canada. Their arrival is timed with the height of the spring green-up of plants, which provide the food necessary for birds to reproduce and raise their young. However, over the last f...

Migratory birds are important for recreation and tourism, contributing to a vibrant birdwatching industry in Alaska. Every spring, hundreds of birds migrate to their summer breeding grounds in Alaska and northern Canada. Their arrival is timed with the height of the spring green-up of plants, which provide the food necessary for birds to reproduce and raise their young. However, over the last fifty years, warming temperatures in Alaska as a result of climate change have prompted an earlier transition from winter to spring. The purpose of this project was to examine whether there have been changes in the timing of spring green-up in recent years (1985-2009) and, if so, whether migratory birds are adapting their migration schedules accordingly. 

 

Researchers used historical satellite imagery and long-term records on bird migration and breeding from across Alaska to generate a series of maps and publications to answer these questions. They found that bird species ranged widely in their adaptation to earlier spring, with some doing better than others at timing their arrival with changing temperature. The researchers also used downscaled climate models to project how bird habitat will be affected by climate change through the 21st century. This information can be used by Alaska land managers to focus their conservation efforts on species or habitat areas that appear especially vulnerable.

 

Collaborators in this project included the University of Alaska; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; National Park Service; Alaska Song Institute Fairbanks; North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management Barrow, Alaska; and U.S. National Forest Service.