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As Ice Melts Earlier, Migratory Birds Travel North Sooner

9/13/2014 11:23:18 AM

Rising temperatures in the Arctic are changing the nesting patterns of sandpipers and phalaropes, as the migratory birds are showing up to breed on the Alaskan shoreline a week earlier than normal, researchers say.

The earlier retreat of Arctic ice is the driving factor behind the changing migration pattern, according to a study by conservation scientists Joe Liebezeit and Steve Zack published in the journal Polar Biology.

The researchers also evaluated whether other factors like a change in possible predators or the amount of seasonal vegetation could be influencing the change.

An arctic tern. (Credit: Flickr/Alastair Rae)

"It seems clear that the timing of the snow melt in Arctic Alaska is the most important mechanism driving the earlier and earlier breeding dates we observed in the Arctic," said Liebezeit, of the Audubon Society of Portland, Ore.

The study followed almost 2,500 nests of two sandpiper varieties and two types of phalaropes, as well as a songbird, the Lapland songspur, over the course of nine years.

The researchers found that the Arctic birds were shifting the timing of their breeding at twice the rate of birds in temperate climates.

"Many of these birds winter in the tropics and may be compromising their complicated calendar of movements to accommodate this change. We're concerned that there will be a threshold where they will no longer be able to track the emergence of these earlier springs, which may impact breeding success or even population viability," said Zack, who coordinates bird conservation for the Wildlife Conservation Society (Tim Radford, Climate News Network/London Guardian, July, 8).

Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500.

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