Date: April 2, 2020
Source: Cell Press
Over the past few decades, the critically endangered whooping crane (Grus Americana) has experienced considerable recovery. However, in a report appearing April 2 in the journal Heliyon, researchers found that habitat loss and within-species attraction have led whooping cranes to gather in unusually large groups during migration. While larger groups are a positive sign of species recovery, the authors say that these large groups mean that a disease outbreak or extreme weather event could inadvertently impact a substantial portion of this still fragile population.
"Whooping crane conservation is one of North America's great success stories," says Andrew Caven, Director of Conservation Research at Crane Trust, a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of critical habitat for whooping cranes and other migratory birds. During the 1940s the whooping crane population fell to 16 birds, largely due to overhunting. However, after concerted conservation efforts, their numbers have increased 30-fold. "We had this species at the brink of extinction, and now there are over 500 birds. As conservation biologists, we've been extremely inspired by that."
Even with this boom in whooping crane numbers, researchers are observing larger migratory flocks than they would expect from population growth alone. Historically, groups of migrating whooping cranes seldom exceeded a family unit. "Twenty years ago, a group of nine was notable; something you'd write in your natural history notes about. But now it's becoming something quite regular. In the recent years we've seen bird groups over seventy multiple times."