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Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Migratory birds bumped off schedule as climate change shifts spring

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May 15, 2017 Florida Museum of Natural History see full ScienceDaily article here

New research shows climate change is altering the delicate seasonal clock that North American migratory songbirds rely on to successfully mate and raise healthy offspring, setting in motion a domino effect that could threaten the survival of many familiar backyard bird species.

A growing shift in the onset of spring has left 9 of 48 species of songbirds studied unable to reach their northern breeding grounds at the calendar marks critical for producing the next generation of fledglings, according to a paper published in Scientific Reports. That’s because in many regions, warming temperatures are triggering plants to begin their growth earlier or later than normal, skewing biological cycles that have long been in sync.

The result, researchers say, could be a future much like the one Rachel Carson hinted at more than 50 years ago. “It’s like ‘Silent Spring,’ …”We’re seeing spring-like conditions well before birds arrive. The growing mismatch means fewer birds are likely to survive, reproduce and return the following year. …”

…The study is the first to investigate the increasing mismatch between songbirds’ springtime arrival and plant growth at the continental scale and across dozens of species, said Mayor, who led the project chiefly at Memorial University of Newfoundland.

Stephen J. Mayor, Robert P. Guralnick, Morgan W. Tingley, Javier Otegui, John C. Withey, Sarah C. Elmendorf, Margaret E. Andrew, Stefan Leyk, Ian S. Pearse, David C. Schneider. Increasing phenological asynchrony between spring green-up and arrival of migratory birds. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-02045-z

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