Across the board, raptor biologists experience the stark realization that raptors are the proverbial “canaries in the coal mine” for humans. As apex predators, falcons and other birds of prey are often the harbingers of how humans will be affected by deviations in the environment. The Gyrfalcon is responding to climate change in the arctic now and a recent article highlights research in progress to better understand how humans can learn from them.
The Peregrine Fund and Boise State University are featured in Audubon Magazine’s January issue. The article showcases The Peregrine Fund’s Gyrfalcon Project and Boise State student, Bryce Robinson, whose Master’s thesis focuses on Gyrfalcon diet on the Seward Peninsula in the context of a changing world. Robinson is co-advised by Dr. Marc Bechard, a Professor at Boise State, and Dr. David Anderson, Director of the Gyrfalcon Project at The Peregrine Fund.
The article, “What One Magnificent Predator Can Show Us About the Arctic’s Future” highlights the critical reason for studying these magnificent predators and the difficulties of studying a cliff-dwelling species in the middle of the arctic tundra. Robinson spent most of two summers rappelling over cliffs to reach Gyrfalcon eyries, or nest ledges, perched high above the ground. His fall semester was spent staring at computer screens studying images of prey remains at the nests to determine what these fearsome fliers were feeding their chicks.
Adventurous and tedious work aside, Robinson has one main question as outlined in the article, “Is a bird that has mastered some of the most challenging conditions on Earth resilient enough to weather a warming Arctic?” The Peregrine Fund’s Anderson defines the issue clearly, “As the top predator of this ecosystem, the Gyrfalcon is the polar bear of the avian world,” he says, “Any change to its population will be a reflection of what’s going on at all the lower levels of the system.”
Populations of Gyrfalcons are may be changing in parts of their circumpolar range, and time is working against all species dependent on the fragile tundra landscape. Anderson remarks, “You spend much time up here and it is evident that climate change is not a future prediction. It’s happening right now, and it’s building speed.” Through Robinson’s thesis work and continued collaboration between The Peregrine Fund and Boise State University, we will be better equipped to understand what effects climate change will have on the future of the arctic ecosystem.
To read the full Audubon Magazine article online, please visit https://www.audubon.org/magazine/january-february-2016/what-one-magnificent-predator-can-show.
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