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Experience Wins: Young Cranes Follow Elders in Migration Pattern Changes

Sep 08, 2016 04:08 AM EDT
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Endangered whooping cranes have been practicing "shortstopping." No, they didn't learn how to play baseball -- they're moving their wintering grounds closer to their breeding grounds to shorten the migration route.

A team of scientists from Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre, the Goethe University Frankfurt, the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of Maryland and the International Crane Foundation published a paper in the journal Nature Communications explaining how older whooping cranes are leading migration changes in response to climate and land use change.

Shortstopping benefits whooping cranes by requiring less energy expenditure and earlier arrival at their breeding grounds. Older birds began the shortstopping practice, with younger birds following suit.

The team found a correlation between the bird's age and the amount of distance lessened between sites. Roughly 25 miles less was traveled for each additional year of age.

In a span of nine years, the percentage of one-year-old birds who shortstopped climbed from zero to 75 percent. The team studied 14 years of data that had been collected about whooping cranes who were re-introduced to their environment.

"While the availability of grain and warmer temperatures allows birds to survive winters farther north, only the reintroduced population is really taking advantage of that," co-author of the paper and research ecologist with USGS Sarah Converse said in an exclusive press release sent to Nature World News.

"The developing culture of this young population might provide more room for innovations like short-stopping. By contrast, the culture of the remnant population is relatively old, and innovation might be less common. Some populations and species are much more likely to struggle to adapt to climate and land-use change than these Whooping Cranes are," she added.

Similar migration pattern changes are not being observed to nearly the same extent in remnant whooping crane populations.

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