News article

Animals take climate action

Publisert 02.09.2019

Migratory animals are actively adjusting their traditions to climate change.

Coastal flats in Norway are home to barnacle geese when preparing for the migration to Svalbard. Helgeland (left photograph) has been the traditional staging area. During the past 25 years a rapidly increasing proportion of barnacle geese switched to Vesterålen (right photograph). Photographs are by Paul Shimmings (left) and Ingunn M. Tombre (right).
Coastal flats in Norway are home to barnacle geese when preparing for the migration to Svalbard. Helgeland (left photograph) has been the traditional staging area. During the past 25 years a rapidly increasing proportion of barnacle geese switched to Vesterålen (right photograph). Photographs are by Paul Shimmings (left) and Ingunn M. Tombre (right).

An international team of researchers from the University of St Andrews and other Norwegian, Dutch and British institutes have shown that barnacle geese shifted their migratory route within the last 25 years.

In research published TODAY in Global Change Biology, the research team concluded that this change is caused by individual animals switching to a new habit during their life. Geese also learn the new habit from others, and so it has become a tradition. It is one of the first studies to provide evidence that wild animals are inventing new traditions to cope with climate change.

The migratory birds, who traditionally fuelled up (staged) just South of the Arctic circle in Norway on their journey from the UK to their breeding grounds on Svalbard, now mainly stage in northern Norway far above the Arctic circle.

The conclusions are based on forty-five years of observations by the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, University of Groningen in the Netherlands, BirdLife Norway and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust.

Lead author Dr Ingunn Tombre said: “It makes sense that the birds went even further North, because where snow used to be very common there at the time of their arrival in Norway, these days it is often freshly green there: the most nutritious stage.

“What surprised us is that it is mainly the young geese who have shifted. The youngsters are responding to a trend they could not have experienced during their short life.”

Adult geese are also increasingly shifting North, although they often return to the traditional area in their old age.

Dr Thomas Oudman of the University of St Andrews added: “These patterns point at a complex social system, which enables the geese to rapidly colonise newly available areas.”

Contrary to most other migratory birds, barnacle geese flourish, even while their natural habitat is rapidly changing.

That barnacle geese can adapt to climate change, is because of the existence of alternative places with sufficient food at the right time and without the threat of disturbance from humans or other dangerous animals.

The availability of alternative habitats may also help other animals to adapt to climate change, although it is not a guarantee. Animal species that are not so explorative and social may take much longer to discover such Places.

Read the article here

European Goose Management Platform

Contact: Ingunn Tombre

 

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