Decoding the migration of the peregrine falcon

Nature
A Satellite-tagged peregrine at its nest site in the Lena Delta, Russia. Peregrines 
were tracked from six separate breeding areas across Arctic Eurasia. 
Genome re-sequencing identified differences among these populations. 
Variations in their numbers were linked to changes in 
glacial conditions over time. Credit: Andrew Dixon.

The migratory routes used by the peregrine falcon have been shaped by environmental changes since the last Ice Age, reports a study published in Nature. The paper also presents evidence that the distance travelled during migration is influenced by a genetic factor.


Satellite-tagged peregrine in Taimyr, Russia. Satellite tracking revealed a 
high degree of fidelity to nesting sites, wintering ranges and 
to the migratory routes connecting them.  
Credit: Andrew Dixon.

Millions of migratory birds have seasonally favourable breeding grounds in the Arctic, but spend their winters in different locations across Eurasia. However, little is known about the formation, maintenance and future of their migration routes or the genetic determinants of migratory distance.

Xiangjiang Zhan and colleagues combined satellite-tracking data from 56 peregrine falcons from Eurasian Arctic populations with genome data from 35 peregrines to study the migrations of this species. The authors found that five migratory routes were used across Eurasia, which have been shaped by environmental changes since the Last Glacial Maximum (around 20,000–30,000 years ago). Peregrines that migrated longer distances were also found to have a dominant genotype of the gene ADCY8 that — the authors suggest — may be associated with the development of long-term memory.

The authors propose that, in a changing global climate, peregrines in western Eurasia may suffer the highest probability of population declines, move to new wintering areas or perhaps stop migrating altogether. They conclude that using ecological interactions and evolutionary processes to study climate-driven changes in migration could help to facilitate the conservation of migratory birds.





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