Arctic Birds Connect the World: Biologging Tech Tracking of Nearctic Seabirds Surprise Scientists with Diverse Migratory Paths from Shared Breeding Site

Smithsonian Conservation Research Brief

As the Arctic and the oceans warm due to climate change, understanding how a rapidly changing environment may affect birds making annual journeys between the Arctic and the high seas is vital to international conservation efforts. However, for some Arctic species, there are still many unknowns about their migration routes. Using telemetry to solve some mysteries of three related seabird species — the pomarine jaeger, parasitic jaeger and long-tailed jaeger — scientists discovered they took different paths across four oceans from a shared central Canadian high Arctic nesting location. As predators and kleptoparasites that steal prey caught by other animals, jaegers are critical components of marine and terrestrial food webs. These new tracking data add to growing evidence linking marine biodiversity in the Arctic region and the high seas to inform large scale marine biological diversity management in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

Local coastal communities from the Arctic to the tropics are also connected through the expansive migrations of these three seabird species. To tell this story, the authors partnered with artist Laurel Mundy to create a comic version of the research, showing how these Arctic seabirds connect the world. The comic is available online in five languages:

Print copies will be distributed to schools in the Canadian Arctic.

Research Paper
Title: “Sympatrically-breeding congeneric seabirds (Stercorarius spp.) from Arctic Canada migrate to four oceans”
Published: Ecology and Evolution
For citations:

Quote from Autumn-Lynn Harrison, lead author and research ecologist for the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s Migratory Bird Center:  
“These three related seabird species left their shared summer island home in the Canadian Arctic to take wildly different migration routes across four of the world’s oceans. Anyone that’s ever taken a different route than the rest of their family can relate to this amazing migration story. In this golden age of animal tracking, birds still have the ability to surprise us.”

Autumn-Lynn Harrison (1), Paul F. Woodward (2), Mark L. Mallory (3), Jennie Rausch (2)

(1) Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

(2) Canadian Wildlife Service

(3) Department of Biology, Acadia University

About the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute  
The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute plays a leading role in the Smithsonian’s global efforts to save wildlife species from extinction and train future generations of conservationists. SCBI spearheads research programs at its headquarters in Front Royal, Virginia, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and at field research stations and training sites worldwide. SCBI scientists tackle some of today’s most complex conservation challenges by applying and sharing what they learn about animal behavior and reproduction, ecology, genetics, migration and conservation sustainability.

About the Canadian Wildlife Service
The Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) is a branch of Environment and Climate Change Canada and is the agency primarily responsible for the monitoring and management of migratory birds and species at risk in Canada. CWS’ vision is a society that lives and develops as part of nature, values the diversity of life, takes no more than it can replenish, and leaves to future generations a nurturing and dynamic world, rich in biodiversity. Our mission is to achieve nature conservation outcomes for wildlife, habitat, and the ecosystems of which they are part, with a particular focus on migratory birds and species at risk.

About Acadia University
Acadia University is one of Canada’s top-ranked, primarily undergraduate universities and has a vibrant graduate research program in biology, notably in marine and coastal research. Much of their recent, collaborative research focuses on how anthropogenic changes in these habitats influence the fauna that live there. Tracking studies, notably on birds and fish, have provided insights that are having direct impacts on wildlife management and habitat policy.

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