Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research

Arctic warming and migrant shorebirds

An in-depth investigation of warming-induced phenotypic changes and their lifelong impact in both the Arctic and the tropics.

A foraging Red knot in Banc d'Arguin Photo: Jan van de Kam

Global warming

Global warming is affecting organisms in various ways (e.g. phenology, body size, sex ratio). Avian migrants breeding in the Arctic and wintering at much lower latitudes face extra challenges under climate change, as their breeding grounds are warming up 2-3 times faster than their wintering grounds. They face the intriguing problem that adaptations to one ‘world’ may work against them in the other. Many species of Arctic long-distance migrants are in decline, and it has been suggested that carry-over effects from a warming Arctic to lower latitudes play a major role in this.

However, up to now, our understanding has been hampered by the inability to study the same individual migrants in ‘both worlds’. Only just now, a breakthrough in the miniaturization of satellite transmitter technology makes it possible to lifelong track individual organisms travelling across the globe. This is needed to mechanistically investigate the problems that Arctic long-distance migrants currently face. 


The aim in this Vici project is to investigate how Arctic warming affects long-distance migrant shorebirds
–both individual birds and their populations– from the Arctic to tropics. 

We will lifelong track experimentally manipulated shorebirds in order to
(i) determine how rapid Arctic warming affects the phenotype of developing young shorebirds;
(ii) investigate the carry-over effects of wintering in the tropics with an altered phenotype; 
(iii) integrate the complex downstream effects from Arctic to tropics at population level.

The project will make a major contribution to understanding how migratory animals respond to global change. It will also reveal the role that migrants play in connecting ecosystems on a worldwide scale, thereby adding a meta-ecosystem dimension. The scaling up from individual to population level will help us understand, forecast, and possibly mitigate the rapid declines seen in long-distance migrants.

Project information
Linked department:
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Netherlands Organization for S…
1 Oct 2019 - 1 Oct 2024

Meet the team

Gils van, Jan
Research Leader
Oortwijn, Tim
PhD student
Horn ten, Job
Senior Research Assistant