This international conference explored evidence for a range of environmental changes in arctic ecosystems affecting the Gyrfalcon, its competitors, and its prey, ptarmigan, waterfowl, seabirds and others, to predict effects and outcomes of global climate change, identify areas of uncertainty, and develop global strategies for measuring and mitigating them. We will publish a conference proceedings in what we expect will be a landmark publication of information, ideas, and strategies.
Responding to climate change may be one of the world's most important and complex endeavors of the 21st Century. Climate change modeling predicts large changes in species’ distributions and the potential for extinctions, but phenological factors involving predator-prey interactions, and interspecific competition add levels of complexity even more difficult to forecast. Gathering empirical evidence of these relationships and monitoring changes over time may greatly improve overall predictions, and offer wider choices for the conservation of biodiversity.
Nowhere is the effect of climate change on biodiversity, ecology, and biotic interactions likely to be more measurable than in the arctic. Arctic conservation managers are now seeking solutions and strategies on how to measure and mitigate climate change effects, and how to respond to other anthropogenic impacts in this rapidly changing ecosystem.
Top predators, such as birds of prey, are often sensitive to environmental change, and can sometimes serve as early indicators of threat and as models for conservation intervention. Gyrfalcons and their principal prey, ptarmigan, are widely distributed in the arctic ecosystem, and are therefore candidates for measuring, understanding, and potentially mitigating current and predicted changes in their world. The Peregrine Fund, Boise State University, and the United States Geological Survey co-hosted an international conference on the ecology and conservation of the Gyrfalcon and its prey in arctic and subarctic alpine ecosystems, with special emphasis on the three species of ptarmigan with which this falcon has a close predator-prey relationship. Emphasis was placed on predicting the impacts of global climate change on the Gyrfalcon and those species that will most influence its ecology in this century, including Homo sapiens.
Based on what is known about the biology and ecology of the Gyrfalcon, its principal competitors (Peregrine, Golden Eagle, Common Raven), and its main food resources (ptarmigan, seabirds, and waterfowl), the conference considered what predictions can be made about changes in their distribution and abundance in the face of global warming and a range of other impacts including contaminants, resource extraction, and emerging diseases.
The conference brought together experts from around the world to share information and to develop a common purpose toward (1) understanding the difference between local, regional, and global factors affecting population viability of Gyrfalcons, ptarmigan, and other prey, (2) understanding changing patterns of abundance throughout their circumpolar distributions, and (3) establishing a global strategy and plan of action for research and conservation of these species.
Invited speakers included world experts on Gyrfalcons, ptarmigan, and other prey species, their competitors, and habitat, as well as on climate change and associated change in arctic and alpine biotas, contamination, resource extraction, diseases, and other factors influencing the ecosystems in which these species occur.
The conference proceedings and commentary will be peer-reviewed and published in a bound volume and searchable CD, and individual papers made freely available with early online publication.
More than 120 scientists, scholars, managers, and other conservationists from around the world attended “Gyrfalcons and Ptarmigan in a Changing World” in Boise, Idaho. They came to share findings, learn from one another, and determine what knowledge gaps remain.
Over three days in February, participants listened to presentations on topics ranging from populations to plumage and willows to wind farms. Ian Newton, a member and former chairman of The Peregrine Fund’s board of directors, summed up on the final day: “Sea ice is shrinking, spring is earlier, vegetation is clearly responding, tree lines are rising, willow patches are expanding, but not everywhere. Key species are going to lose habitat.” He also said that, unlike Peregrine Falcons of 40 years ago, Gyrfalcons are not in catastrophic decline at the moment but with about 50% decline predicted this century from climate models we should not be complacent. He urged researchers to go beyond monitoring the species to improving our broader understanding of a highly complex problem.
The Peregrine Fund is planning to develop an online database accessible to anyone working on topics related to birds of prey and climate change. Also, a communications group will be formed so that the research community can stay in touch, share their findings, and contribute to ways of stemming and mitigating the effects of climate change on wildlife in the Arctic.
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