Climate driven disruption of Arctic migratory flyways

Hannah S. Wauchope (1), Justine D. Shaw (1,2),  Øystein Varpe (3,4), Elena G. Lappo (5), David Boertmann (6), Richard B. Lanctot (7) & Richard A. Fuller (1)


1 School of Biological Sciences, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Qld 4072, Australia.

2 Terrestrial Nearshore Ecosystems, Australian Antarctic Division, Department of

Environment, Kingston, Tasmania 7050, Australia.

3 University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS), 9171 Longyearbyen, Norway.

4 Akvaplan-niva, Fram Centre, 9296 Tromsø, Norway.

5 Institute of Geography, Russian Academy of Sciences, Staromonetny pereulok, 29, Moscow,

119017, Russia.

6 Aarhus University, Institute of Bioscience, Arctic Research Centre, 4000 Roskilde, Denmark.

7 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Migratory Bird Management Division, Anchorage, Alaska, USA.

* Correspondence to:

Millions of migratory birds fly to the Arctic each year, yet rapid climate change in the High North could strongly affect where species are able to breed, disrupting migratory connections globally. Here we show that climatically suitable breeding conditions for Arctic specialist shorebirds will shift, contract and decline over the next 70 years, with 70-80% of 24 losing the majority of currently suitable area. This exceeds, in rate and magnitude, the impact of the world’s last major warming event ~6000 years ago. Conditions decline severely in the most species rich region, Beringia (West Alaska and Far-Eastern Russia) and instead concentrate suitable habitat on the Eurasian and Canadian Arctic islands on the other side of the globe. We suggest for the first time that this could disconnect species from their current migratory routes, causing some to adjust route and prompting changes in the species composition of flyways globally. Protected area coverage of current and future climatically suitable breeding conditions generally meets target levels, except within the Canadian Arctic where resource exploitation is an emerging threat. With populations of Arctic migratory birds already declining rapidly, our results emphasize the urgency of mitigating climate change and protecting Arctic biodiversity.