U of M researchers could help migrating birds keep pace with climate change

A research team at the University of Manitoba is making headway on helping migratory birds at risk of population decline adjust to climate change.

In a study published Wednesday, PhD student Saeedeh Bani Assadi along with biological sciences professor Kevin Fraser suggested they were able to instill new migration times in nestling purple martins by manipulating light levels in their nest boxes.

“This helps us to see the potential for an assisted evolution approach to solving bird’s timing problems, where we may be able to intervene to help birds keep up with the pace of climate change,” Bani Assadi said in a news release Thursday.

Read more: Climate change in our backyard: Manitoba begins to grapple with the consequences

The researchers say birds like purple martins must alter the timing of their migration with the pace of climate change, so they don’t miss out on feeding opportunities.

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With climate change likely ushering in earlier springs, unknowing migrating birds that have overwintered thousands of kilometres away may arrive too late for the essential insects they need to survive, which could affect bird populations, ultimately also upsetting ecosystems.

Leaving these migratory changes up to evolution, without potential solutions, could take bird populations decades to adapt, the team says.

“These results help us to see the potential for an assisted evolution approach to help solve the mismatches we see between bird timing and their new environment with climate change,” Fraser said in the release.

North America has already lost a substantial number of bird populations — around three billion land birds lost since the 1960s, the release says.

The researchers say their findings could open up further possibilities for using adaptive timing through captive-release programs.

More to come … 

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