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Smithsonian scientists report changes in vegetation determine how animals migrate
Date:5/11/2011

The predictability and scale of seasonal changes in a habitat help determine the distance migratory species move and whether the animals always travel together to the same place or independently to different locations, according to a paper published online in February in Global Ecology and Biogeography by the National Zoo's Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute researchers and partners.

The study's findings have significant implications for land managers around the world working to conserve endangered species that migrate.

"We knew that Mongolian gazelle in the Eastern Steppes migrate long distances, but when we put radio collars on them, we were surprised to discover that they go off individually in different directions," said Thomas Mueller, a research associate at SCBI and lead author of the study.

"Previously researchers had not paid much attention to how individual animals that migrate long distances move relative to one another," Mueller added.

The researchers compared how Mongolian gazelle migrate to the movement of three other ungulate species: guanaco in the Patagonian Steppes in Argentina, caribou in the arctic tundra of Canada and Alaska and moose in temperate forests in Massachusetts. SCBI's primary role in collaboration with University of Maryland was to provide the remote tracking technology and statistical analysis, while other partners organized and executed the field work in each of the areas.

After determining how far each species migrated and whether individuals moved together or independently from each other in different directions, the scientists compared these results to 25 years of satellite data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showing seasonal and annual changes in landscape dynamics. They found that the species that moved the largest distances (caribou and gazelle) live in areas where vegetation (their food source) varies over large scales, while those that mov
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Contact: Lindsay Renick Mayer
202-633-3081
Smithsonian
Source:Eurekalert

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