13 January 2021
Climate change affecting Arctic animal behaviour
Published online 6 November 2020
The first Arctic-focused collection of animal tracking studies reveals variations in wildlife migration, reproduction and daily movements.
According to the new Arctic Animal Movement Archive (AAMA) animals have modified certain seasonal behaviours in response to climate and environmental shifts.
AAMA is the first repository of tracking studies for terrestrial and marine wildlife across the vast and remote Arctic and subarctic regions. It’s the result of a large international collaboration involving over 100 universities, government agencies and conservation groups, including Reneco International Wildlife Consultants in the United Arab Emirates. It currently contains datasets collected over the last three decades for 8,000 animals belonging to 86 species.
“Data shared in AAMA are accessible and preserved for posterity. We hope that researchers from around the world will use it and contribute to it,” says environmental engineer Gil Bohrer of Ohio State University in the US.
Analysing the datasets, the researchers found that some species are changing their spring migration and reproduction times in response to climate changes. Following mild and dry winters, for example, young golden eagles arrive earlier to their breeding territories in western North America. This means that climate change could affect the breeding success of these predatory birds.
In Canada, caribou living in the tundra and northern regions are giving birth earlier in the spring, whereas southern herds have not changed their behaviour. As the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet and the caribou population is declining globally, this is the first evidence that North America’s caribou are potentially adapting to the changing climate.
The researchers also compared tracking data of black bears, grizzly bears, barren-ground caribou, moose and wolves, and found that these mammals respond differently to variations in seasonal temperatures and precipitations. For example, during warm summer days, wolves and black bears slow their movement rates, while moose tend to move faster. When winter temperatures rise, caribou become more active. These differences among species could affect predation and competition for food.
“When analysed together, AAMA datasets help unveil new patterns and processes that advance our understanding of responses to climate change,” says biologist Nathalie Pettorelli at the Zoological Society of London, who was not involved in the study.
Davidson S. C. et al. Ecological insights from three decades of animal movement tracking across a changing Arctic. Science 370, 712–715 (2020).