AUGUST 22, 2019
Life over the last half-century has been pretty good for populations of Svalbard barnacle geese. A hunting ban implemented in the 1950s in their overwintering area in Scotland has led to explosive population growth, from roughly 2800 birds in 1960 to more than 40,000 birds today.
But what will happen to these birds and others that migrate to Arctic nesting grounds as the climate grows warmer?
A warmer climate in the Arctic might seem beneficial, but shorter winters with earlier springs, as have already been recorded in places like Svalbard, are not necessarily good for birds that migrate there. Birds can arrive too late to match their breeding period with peak availability of their food, just one possible issue raised by climate change. Another problem is that even when the birds can benefit from earlier springs, their predators can benefit from climate change, too.
Now, a team of researchers from Norway and the Netherlands has described just how climate change affected a local Svalbard barnacle geese population. They've found that so far, climate change has been both good and bad for the birds—with a net zero effect.
"When you consider the earlier springs, it's good news, so far," says Kate Layton-Matthews, a Ph.D. candidate at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's (NTNU) Centre for Biodiversity Dynamics and the first author of the new study. "But the predation part outbalances the benefits from climate change."