Near-term ecological forecasting for dynamic aeroconservation of migratory birds

Authors: Kyle G. Horton, Benjamin M. Van Doren, Heidi J. Albers, Andrew Farnsworth, Daniel Sheldon


Publication: Conservation Biology

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Keywords: aeroecology, bird migration, light pollution, radar, remote sensing

Abstract: Near‐term ecological forecasting has potential to mitigate the negative impacts of human modifications on wildlife by directing efficient dynamic conservation action through relevant and timely predictions. We use the North American avian migration system to highlight ecological forecasting applications for aeroconservation. We use millions of observations from 143 weather surveillance radars to construct and evaluate a migration forecasting system for nocturnal bird migration over the contiguous United States. We identified the number of nights of mitigation action required to reduce risk to 50% of avian migrants passing a given area in spring and autumn based on dynamic forecasts of migration activity. We also investigated an alternative approach, employing a fixed conservation strategy using time windows that historically capture 50% of migratory passage. In practice, during both spring and autumn, dynamic forecasts required fewer action nights compared to fixed window selection at all locations (spring: mean of 7.3 more alert days; fall: mean of 12.8 more alert days). This pattern resulted in part from the pulsed nature of bird migration captured in the radar data, where the majority (53.4%) of birds move on 10% of a migration season’s nights. Our results highlight the benefits of near‐term ecological forecasting and the potential advantages of dynamic mitigation strategies over static ones, especially in the face of increasing risks to migrating birds from light pollution, wind energy, and collisions with structures.

Article impact statement: Ecological forecasting can efficiently alert conservation activities to mitigate aerial hazards for in‐flight migratory birds.

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