Intensive agriculture’s relationship with migratory routes for birds

  • New research has shown that the effects of intensive agriculture’s are causing migratory birds to change their route when flying to breeding grounds.
  • The Afro-Eurasian Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) is a common inland shorebird with well- defined migration routes from sub-Saharan Africa, stopping off at specific sites to rest, feed and build up reserves. Ruffs follow two major routes: a pathway from Western Europe to the Northern European and European Arctic breeding grounds, and a pathway from Eastern Europe to Western and Central Siberia.
  • Stop-off points on the western route are in intensively managed dairy grassland areas (Friesland, Netherlands), compared to managed floodplain meadows in Belarus and Ukraine on the easterly route. Recently, less Ruffs are stopping in the Netherlands with more in Belarus, and there are shifts from European to Asian Arctic breeding grounds.
  • Migratory populations were compared from 2001 to 2010, during which the number of Ruffs stopping in the Dutch study area fell by 66% from 19,200 to under 4,000, while birds stopping in Belarus increased by 12,000. The number of days spent in the Dutch area dropped by an average of 4 days, and the average weight gain declined by 43% and 71% for males and females respectively, whilst remaining stable in Belarus.

Implications and next steps: It may be that increases in intensive agricultural practices could reduce the availability of soil invertebrate food for the birds. Deteriorating habitat quality may have potential impacts on other migratory birds, which may not be able to shift migratory route.

European Commission:, Biological Conservation: http://ti-

About Julia Chatterton

Systems modeller with a particular expertise in food, farming and agricultural systems. Working with life cycle assessment methods for over 4 years to assess and analyse the environmental burdens associated with food and other production systems.
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