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Climate change is affecting birds’ seasonal migrations

Scientists working at University of Massachusetts Amherst have assembled evidence that shows that spring migrants are likely to pass certain stops earlier today compared with the stops from 20 years ago. The greatest changes in these variations of migration timing are happening in those regions of the world which are warming most rapidly. The same timing shifts occur during the fall, but they are not as significant as those occurring during the spring months. This is a global phenomenon involving billions of birds annually.

The data was gathered using a wide number of data inputs made possible through cloud computing (provided by Amazon Web Services) and subjecting the results to big data analytics. The observations about the bird patterns were combined with the U.S. National Weather Services’ network of constantly scanning weather radars (‘Nexrad‘). The researchers developed a special program called ‘MistNet,’ which is an artificial intelligence system designed to detect patterns in radar images and remove rain automatically. This enabled the team to produce special maps outlining intensive migration areas.

According to lead researcher Dr. Kyle Horton these observed changes are “critically important” in order to understand how climate change is impacting migration patterns. Horton notes: “To see changes in timing at continental scales is truly impressive, especially considering the diversity of behaviors and strategies used by the many species the radars capture.”

The research output will findings have consequences for examining future patterns of bird migration, because the birds rely on food and other resources as they travel, and for showing the emerging complications that human-made climate change is having on the natural world.

The research is published in the journal Nature Climate Change, in a paper titled “Phenology of nocturnal avian migration has shifted at the continental scale.”

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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