A new study of bird migration shows the migration patterns are shifting as a result of climate change. Researchers at Colorado State University, the University of Massachusetts, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, looked at the impacts of climate change on a continental scale.
The team looked at the nocturnal migratory behaviors of hundreds of species representing billions of birds using radar and other data. They found that spring migrants are likely to pass certain stops earlier now than they would have 20 years ago. Temperature and migration timing are closely aligned and the greatest changes in migration timing are occurring in regions warming most rapidly. During the fall, shifts in migration were less apparent.
Migratory birds play an important role in ecosystems. They consume insects, disperse seeds, and perform various other significant functions. Birds serve as critical metrics of the health of ecosystems.
Bird migration is a global phenomenon that can provide unique visibility into changes in the climate. The ability to look at it on a global scale has only recently become practical as a result of big data technology and cloud computing. The team was able to crunch the numbers for the study in 48 hours, a task that previously would have taken over a year of continuous computing.
The findings have implications for understanding future patterns of bird migration because birds depend on food and other resources as they travel. As the climate changes, the timing of blooming vegetation or the emergence of insects may end up out of sync with the passage of migratory birds. This could have negative consequences for the health of migratory birds.
Photo, posted November 5, 2019, courtesy of Jerry Kirkhart via Flickr.