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Why Arctic Geese Have Formed A New Migration Route

In response to the increasing effects of global warming, Arctic geese have established a new migration route and nesting habitat. 

Arctic geese have formed a new migration route and breeding ground hundreds of miles from the original location as global warming takes an increasing toll.

Scientists say that as Earth warms, animals that breed in the Arctic are at particular risk.

But a new study offers some encouraging news as, in an apparent reaction to pressures along their former migratory route, a cluster of Arctic geese has rapidly adjusted.

They have formed a new route and breeding location almost 1,000 kilometers (0.00 feets) (620 miles) from their old stomping ground.

The research team say that the new route has also “caught on” with other geese and even birds of other species.

Population of Arctic geese have formed a new breeding ground and migration route within a decade. It is fascinating to observe the quick emergence of new migratory routes and breeding grounds by a bird species that is thought to be highly conventional in its behavior and site utilization. MADSEN ET. AL/SWNS

Study author Professor Jesper Madsen, of Aarhus University in Denmark, said: “We observe a new distinct population of birds in the making in real-time.

“This is very rare to observe. The speed of the development is astonishing.

“It is extremely fascinating to witness such rapid evolution of new breeding grounds and migratory routes by a bird species that is regarded as being very traditional in its behavior and site use.

“It gives some hope for ‘ecological rescue’ at times of very radical environmental changes due to climate change and, more broadly, global change.”

Prof Madsen’s team has been studying Norway’s Svalbard population of pink-footed geese for more than 35 years.

They’ve monitored the population size and other demographic variables, using a systematic marking and resighting programme.

About 20 years ago, they started getting reports of geese turning up on migration in Sweden and Finland, which were confirmed as members of the Svalbard population.

To learn more, Prof Madsen went to Oulu in Finland in the spring of 2018 and 2019 with his team from Denmark as well as Dutch and Finnish colleagues.

Their hope was to catch and tag some pink-footed geese with GPS tags. They wanted to know where these geese were going, and they got an unexpected answer.

Prof Madsen said: “It was a real surprise to see that half of the marked individuals in Oulu migrated north-east to Novaya Zemlya in north Russia.

“From the tagging information, we could not only follow their new path but also got indications that females were breeding there. This site is around 1,000 kilometres east of the Svalbard breeding grounds.

“It was also cool to observe that geese from the traditional flyway have turned up on the new route and seemed to have switched.

“Hence, social learning and following individuals from the new route has been an important phenomenon, which also explains how this development could be so fast.”

He said the team have now documented an “abrupt formation” of a new migration route and population for the Arctic geese over the course of 10 to 15 years.

The population has grown over time due to successful breeding and high survival rates combined with continued immigration of geese from the old route to the new one.

A flock of migratory bar-headed Goose seen fly inside the Burapahar range of Kaziranga National Park in Nagaon District of Assam, India on Mar. 4, 2023. ANUWAR HAZARIKA/GETTY IMAGES

Prof Madsen says their ability to live in Novaya Zemlya has apparently been aided by warming in the area.

While the new population is not genetically or demographically isolated yet, the research team said that it already now qualifies as a separate population.

Prof Madsen says the new route does have some disadvantages, for example, it’s longer.

But the researchers believe the benefits of the new route and grounds outweigh any downsides.

Prof Madsen says the findings, published in the journal Current Biology, show the importance of social learning on a changing planet, especially in social animals including birds but perhaps also wolves and whales.

He added: “At this time, when climate change and other human activities threaten many species, not least the Arctic ones, social learning can be a behavior that can provide advantages to avoid some negative impacts, at least in the short term.”

Produced in association with SWNS Talker

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