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Modeling Bird Migration under Climate Change: A Mechanistic Approach

By James A. Smith


How will migrating birds respond to changes in the environment under climate change? What are the implications for migratory success under the various accelerated climate change scenarios as forecast by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change? How will reductions or increased variability in the number or quality of wetland stop-over sites affect migratory bird species? The answers to these questions have important ramifications for conservation biology and wildlife management. Here, we describe the use of continental scale simulation modeling to explore how spatio-temporal changes along migratory flyways affect en-route migration success. We use an individually based, biophysical, mechanistic, bird migration model to simulate the movement of shorebirds in North America as a tool to study how such factors as drought and wetland loss may impact migratory success and modify migration patterns. Our model is driven by remote sensing and climate data and incorporates important landscape variables. The energy budget components of the model include resting, foraging, and flight, but presently predation is ignored. Results/Conclusions We illustrate our model by studying the spring migration of sandpipers through the Great Plains to their Arctic breeding grounds. Why many species of shorebirds have shown significant declines remains a puzzle. Shorebirds are sensitive to stop-over quality and spacing because of their need for frequent refueling stops and their opportunistic feeding patterns. We predict bird "hydrographs that is, stop-over frequency with latitude, that are in agreement with the literature. Mean stop-over durations predicted from our model for nominal cases also are consistent with the limited, but available data. For the shorebird species simulated, our model predicts that shorebirds exhibit significant plasticity and are able to shift their migration patterns in response to changing drought conditions. However, the question remains as to whether this behavior can be maintained over increasing and sustained environmental change. Also, the problem is much more complex than described by the current processes captured in our model. We have taken some important and interesting steps, and our model does demonstrate how local scale information about individual stop-over sites can be linked into the migratory flyway as a whole. We are incorporating additional, species specific, mechanistic processes to better reflect different climate change scenario

Topics: Life Sciences (General)
Year: 2009
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