Migration can be defined as the long-range seasonal movement of organisms, often due to seasonal changes in temperature. It is an evolved, adapted response to variation in resource availability, and it is a common phenomenon found in all major groups of animals. Birds fly south for the winter to get to warmer climates with sufficient food, and salmon migrate to their spawning grounds. The popular 2005 documentary March of the Penguins followed the 62-mile migration of emperor penguins through Antarctica to bring food back to their breeding site and to their young. Wildebeests (Figure 31.1) migrate over 1800 miles each year in search of new grasslands.One of the negative impacts of climate change is the forced changes upon animals’ migration patterns.
Although migration is thought of as innate behavior, only some migrating species always migrate (obligate migration). Animals that exhibit facultative migration can choose to migrate or not. Additionally, in some animals, only a portion of the population migrates, whereas the rest does not migrate (incomplete migration). For example, owls that live in the tundra may migrate in years when their food source, small rodents, is relatively scarce, but not migrate during the years when rodents are plentiful.
KQED: Flyways: The Migratory Routes of Birds
For thousands of years and countless generations, migratory birds have flown the same long-distance paths between their breeding and feeding grounds. Understanding the routes these birds take, called flyways, helps conservation efforts and gives scientists better knowledge of global changes, both natural and man-made.
View this video which discusses flyways and how biologists track the migratory patterns of birds.
Migration in humans
Early Hominin Migrations
Which of the following were influences of the migration of early hominins? Select all that apply.
A. Gene flow between different hominin populations
B. Enhanced skills such as toolmaking
C. Reduced resistance to disease
D. Species’ expansion from Eurasia to Africa
Controversies Surrounding the Peopling of the Americas
Based on this new evidence, scientists now agree that the Americas were first settled by a pre-Clovis population. How they arrived, when they arrived, what movements they made, and in what order they made them are major archaeological questions today. What we can conclude is that human populations continued to migrate after peopling the Americas.
Temperature and habitat
Temperature affects the physiology of organisms as well as the density and state of water. Temperature exerts an important influence on living things because few living things can survive at temperatures below 0 °C (32 °F) due to metabolic constraints. It is also rare for living things to survive at temperatures exceeding 45 °C (113 °F); this is a reflection of evolutionary response to typical temperatures near the Earth’s surface. Enzymes are most efficient within a narrow and specific range of temperatures; enzyme degradation can occur at higher temperatures. Therefore, organisms either must maintain an internal temperature or they must inhabit an environment that will keep the body within a temperature range that supports metabolism. Some animals have adapted to enable their bodies to survive significant temperature fluctuations, such as seen in hibernation or reptilian torpor. Similarly, some Archaea bacteria have evolved to tolerate extremely hot temperatures such as those found in the geysers within Yellowstone National Park. Such bacteria are examples of extremophiles: organisms that thrive in extreme environments.
The temperature (of both water and air) can limit the distribution of living things. Animals faced with temperature fluctuations may respond with adaptations, such as migration, in order to survive. Migration, the regular movement from one place to another, is an adaptation found in many animals, including many that inhabit seasonally cold climates. Migration solves problems related to temperature, locating food, and finding a mate. For example, the Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea) makes a 40,000 km (24,000 mi) round-trip flight each year between its feeding grounds in the southern hemisphere and its breeding grounds in the Arctic Ocean. Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) live in the eastern and western United States in the warmer months, where they build up enormous populations, and migrate to areas around Michoacan, Mexico as well as areas along the Pacific Coast, and the southern United States in the wintertime. Some species of mammals also make migratory forays. Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) travel about 5,000 km (3,100 mi) each year to find food. Amphibians and reptiles are more limited in their distribution because they generally lack migratory ability. Not all animals that could migrate do so: migration carries risk and comes at a high-energy cost.
Some animals hibernate or estivate to survive hostile temperatures. Hibernation enables animals to survive cold conditions, and estivation allows animals to survive the hostile conditions of a hot, dry climate. Animals that hibernate or estivate enter a state known as torpor: a condition in which their metabolic rate is significantly lowered. This enables the animal to wait until its environment better supports its survival. Some amphibians, such as the wood frog (Rana sylvatica), have an antifreeze-like chemical in their cells, which retains the cells’ integrity and prevents them from freezing and bursting.
Is the following statement true or false?
Q: Some species have narrow distribution because they are able to easily migrate.
Climate change and effects on migration behaviors
Climate change, and specifically the anthropogenic (meaning, caused by humans) warming trend presentlyescalating, is recognized as a major extinction threat, particularly when combined with other threats such as habitat loss and the expansion of disease organisms. Scientists disagree about the likely magnitude of the effects, with extinction rate estimates ranging from 15 percent to 40 percent of species destined for extinction by 2050. Scientists do agree, however, that climate change will alter regional climates, including rainfall and snowfall patterns, making habitats less hospitable to the species living in them, in particular, the endemic species. The warming trendwill shift colder climates toward the north and south poles, forcing species to move with their adapted climate norms while facing habitat gaps along the way. The shifting ranges will impose new competitive regimes on species as they find themselves in contact with other species not present in their historic range. One such unexpected species contact is between polar bears and grizzly bears. Previously, these two distinct species had separate ranges. Now, their ranges are overlapping and there are documented cases of these two species mating and producing viable offspring, which may or may not be viable crossing back to either parental species. Changing climates also throw off species’ delicate timed adaptations to seasonal food resources and breeding times. Many contemporary mismatches to shifts in resource availability and timing have already been documented.
Range shifts are already being observed: for example, some European bird species ranges have moved 91 km northward. The same study suggested that the optimal shift based on warming trends was double that distance, suggesting that the populations are not moving quickly enough. Range shifts have also been observed in plants, butterflies, other insects, freshwater fishes, reptiles, and mammals.
Climate gradients will also move up mountains, eventually crowding species higher in altitude and eliminating the habitat for those species adapted to the highest elevations. Some climates will completely disappear. The accelerating rate of warming in the arctic significantly reduces snowfall and the formation of sea ice. Without the ice, species like polar bears cannot successfully hunt seals, which are their only reliable source of food. Sea ice coverage has been decreasing since observations began in the mid-twentieth century, and the rate of decline observed in recent years is far greater than previously predicted.
Grolar bears are a novel observation and are hybrids of polar and grizzly bears. To what can this observation be attributed?
A. They have become less aggressive towards each other and less competitive.
B. The habitats of these two species have started to overlap more.
C. They have become more aggressive towards each other and more competitive.
D. The habitats of these two species have started to become more separate.
Species adapting to climate change
The same way the musicians of an orchestra rely on a conductor to remain synchronised, migratory species rely on environmental cues, such as day length and temperature, to decide when they need to start moving from one area to the next. But because different species rely on different environmental cues to time their life cycles (e.g. breeding), not all species will adjust to climate change at the same rate. There is consequently a high likelihood that climate change will disrupt these synchronous movements that the animal kingdom has developed over thousands of years (Renner and Zohner, 2018). This disruption of timed aspects of a species’ life cycle, such as migration and breeding, is called phenological mismatch or trophic asynchrony. Researchers have already seen signs of phenological mismatch: some migratory birds that overwinter in the tropics have started to migrate to their European breeding grounds at earlier dates than before (Both et al., 2006; Vickery et al., 2014). If these trends hold, they may soon start breeding before peak food availability, which could lead to lower fitness of offspring.
We can already see evidence of how climate change is disrupting migrations and mutualistic relationships that were developed over thousands of years.
Resident species are also vulnerable to phenological mismatch. While these species might not be known for large-scale movements around the globe, they may still have to adjust their ranges to keep track of their climatic niches. Considering the improbability of different species will adapt at the same pace, there is thus a danger that important mutualistic relationships might be pulled apart these during range adaptations. This is of concern for species with specialized feeding niches, as seen in some pollinators. For example, studies from South Africa have shown how necessary range adjustments under climate change threaten both sunbirds—which show low adaptability (Simmons et al., 2004)—and their host plants, if specialized pollinator niches are left vacant (Huntley and Barnard, 2012). Extinctions arising from this decoupling of mutualistic relationships are referred to as coextinction (Koh et al., 2004), while a series of linked coextinctions is called an extinction cascade.
Researchers have observed that bear and fish interactions have drastically been reduced in British Columbia, Canada. What is the most likely reason for this?
A. Loss-of-function mutations resulting in the reduced hunting ability of bears
B. Gain-of-function mutations resulting in the increased evasion ability of fish
C. Phenomenological mismatch resulting in the less disparate habitats of bears and fish
D. Phenomenological mismatch resulting in the more disparate habitats of bears and fish
What is phenological mismatch or trophic asynchrony?
A) The synchronous movement of migratory species
B) The disruption of timed aspects of a species’ life cycle due to climate change
C) The reliance of different species on different environmental cues
D) The timing of breeding and migration in migratory birds
Adapted from Clark, M.A., Douglas, M., and Choi, J. (2018). Biology 2e. OpenStax. Retrieved from https://openstax.org/books/biology-2e/pages/1-introduction