Densely packed wildebeests flowing over the Serengeti, bison teeming across the Northern Plainsthese iconic images extend from Hollywood epics to the popular imagination. But the fact is, all of the world's large-scale terrestrial migrations have been severely reduced and a quarter of the migrating species are suspected to no longer migrate at all because of human changes to the landscape. A recently published research paper highlights this global change and presents the first analysis of the dwindling mass migrations.
"Conservation science has done a poor job in understanding how migrations work, and as a result many migrations have gone extinct," says Grant Harris of the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History, first author of the paper in Endangered Species Research. "Fencing, for example, blocks migratory routes and reduces migrant's access to forage and water. Migrations can then stop, or be shortened, and animal numbers plummet."
Migrations of large-bodied herbivores (also called ungulates) occur when animals search for higher quality or more abundant food. Ecologically, there are two primary drivers of food availability. In temperate regions of the world, higher-quality food shifts predictably as the seasons change, and animals respond by moving along well-established routes. For savannah ecosystems, rain and fire allow higher-quality food to grow. This is a less predictable change that animals must track across expansive landscapes.
Human activity now prevents large groups of ungulates from following their food. Fencing, farming, and water restrictions have changed the landscape and over-harvesting of the animals themselves has played a role in reducing the number of migrants.
To assess the impact of human activity on migrations throughout the world, Harris and his co-authors gathered information on all 24 species of large (over 20 kilograms) ungulates known for t
|Contact: Kristin Elise Phillips|
American Museum of Natural History