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Geese are breeding at a former nuclear weapons check web site within the Arctic



Pink-footed geese are migrating to a brand new breeding floor within the Arctic

Jürgen Peter Kjeldsen

Some pink-footed geese have begun migrating to the Arctic island of Novaya Zemlya in the summertime to breed, almost 1000 kilometres away from their traditional breeding web site on the island of Svalbard.

Situations on Novaya Zemlya, a Russian island within the Arctic, was once too chilly for breeding geese. However with spring circumstances coming earlier within the 12 months due to world warming, the island has turn out to be appropriate, says Jesper Madsen at Aarhus College in Denmark. Over 15 years or so, this inhabitants has established a brand new migration path to Novaya Zemlya and new stop-over factors alongside the way in which.

“It’s a huge surprise,” says Madsen. “It’s really amazing to see this.”

Another birds have been altering their ranges in response to world warming, however that is essentially the most dramatic shift of this type ever noticed in a migratory chicken, he says.

There are two populations of pink-footed geese (Anser brachyrhynchus). One overwinters within the UK and Eire and migrates to Iceland and Greenland to breed in summer season.

The opposite overwinters within the Netherlands and Denmark, migrating to Svalbard to breed. In spring, this inhabitants flies alongside a lot of the size of Norway, resting in locations, earlier than the lengthy flight over the ocean to Svalbard. The birds return alongside this route in autumn.

However, within the Nineteen Nineties, individuals started recognizing people and small flocks of pink-footed geese in southern Sweden throughout spring and autumn. By the 2000s, bigger flocks have been ceaselessly being noticed.

To search out out the place they have been going, in 2018 and 2019, Madsen and his colleagues put GPS tags on 21 geese. Half of them flew to part of Novaya Zemlya that was used for testing nuclear bombs up till 1990. Not even Russian biologists are allowed to go there, says Madsen, so their presence wouldn’t have been found with out the GPS trackers.

These birds are migrating over Sweden and Finland fairly than flying alongside Norway, and the GPS knowledge additionally reveals that the birds are nesting there. Many are returning with offspring.

The researchers estimate that the Novaya Zemlya inhabitants has grown to round 4000 birds already. Due to routine non-GPS tagging of some birds alongside the Denmark to Svalbard route, they’ve been capable of inform that a few of these geese have been beforehand travelling to Svalbard and have switched routes, with younger geese principally more likely to change.

The group’s speculation is that these geese discovered the brand new migration by copying taiga bean geese (Anser fabalis). Some taiga bean geese fly to Novaya Zemlya in late spring to moult and substitute their flight feathers, fairly than to breed.

“That’s the best explanation we have,” says Madsen. If appropriate, it will be a uncommon instance of cultural information transmission occurring between species.

Madsen thinks the shift is going on not simply due to the warming of Novaya Zemlya, but in addition due to rising difficulties with the normal migration route. Pink-footed geese at the moment are having to compete with barnacle geese (Branta leucopsis) for meals at stop-overs, and modifications in farming practices are additionally decreasing meals availability.

“This is a really neat study that combines traditional, old-school bird observations and counting, with tagging, GPS and climate data, to uncover a remarkable new story,” says Richard Gregory on the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science within the UK, who wasn’t concerned within the examine.

“On the one hand, it provides hope that migratory bird species might be able to respond to climate change over relatively short periods, but raises alarm bells over the pace of change,” he says.


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