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A continental system for forecasting bird migration

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Science  14 Sep 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6407, pp. 1115-1118
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat7526

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  • RE: A continental system for forecasting bird migration
    • Kevin C Fraser, Assistant Professor, Dept. Biological Sciences, University of Manitoba

    The weather forecast allows us to prepare ahead, helpfully indicating when we may want to bring an umbrella. What do we do with a forecast that tells us when to expect peak bird migration? Van Doren and Horton (Science 361:115-1118) give us the opportunity to consider this question for the first time. Using continent-wide radar data to measure when birds are in the air in combination with detailed weather data, they developed predictive models of avian migration (a forecast) that were able to predict 80% of the variation in migration intensity over the United States up to 7 days in advance. They also show that some peak daily movements exceeded 200 million birds during spring migration.

    As a forecast, this can tell us what days we should be carrying our binoculars, but this critical advance can also support new, real-time conservation actions that help provide safer passage for our migrants. Real-time tracking of large animals, like elephants, has been used to anticipate and mitigate conflicts when their movements intersected with human croplands and development (Ecol. Appl. 24:593–601). Until now, we did not have the predictive tools to enact dynamic management during migration for the billions of small landbirds (Nat. Ecol. Evol. 2:1603–1609) moving across North America, many of which are species in decline. As Van Doren and Horton note, city lights that disorient birds during migration (PNAS 114(42):11175-11180) could be temporarily shut off, wind turbines could...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.