June 23, 2024

Eagles traversing migration routes Ukraine shifted their flight routes to avoid areas affected by the conflict, researchers found.

GPS data revealed that greater spotted eagles not only made major detours after the invasion began, but also shortened pit stops to rest and refuel, or avoided making them altogether.

The result, the team says, is that the vulnerable raptors took longer to reach their breeding grounds, and probably spent more energy getting there.

“It’s kind of like if you were to run a marathon, but you didn’t have any water breaks. And at the end someone asks you to run an extra seven or eight miles,” said Charlie Russell of the University of East Anglia, the co-author of the study.

The researchers warned the situation could delay hatching, as the eagles may need longer to recover, and could affect the chances of survival of any young, as prey may be less available when the eggs hatch.

Write in the journal Current Biology, Russell and colleagues reported analyzing migration routes taken by 19 greater spotted eagles as they flew across Ukraine to breeding grounds in southern Belarus in March and April 2022 – just weeks after the Russian invasion of Ukraine started While females travel from wintering areas in Greece, males travel from locations in East Africa.

The researchers compared these paths with 65 migrations recorded from 20 birds in 2018-2021.

The findings suggest that the eagles traveled an average of an extra 53 miles (85 km) after the invasion. Russell said one eagle added an extra 155 miles to his route.

The journey took an average of 55 hours longer after the conflict began, with men found to have a lower flight speed than before the conflict began.

And while 90% of eagles stopped over in Ukraine before the conflict, only 32% did so after the invasion, with some sites avoided altogether.

The team said the greatest deviations from a direct path occurred where military activity was higher. However, Russell said the degree to which the eagles appeared to be affected varied.

Indeed, while one eagle, nicknamed Borovets, continues to fly through Kiev despite intense fighting, another – known as Denisa – has diverted after flying within a kilometer of explosions and fighting around the outskirts of the city has.

Russell added that the on-the-fly detours appeared to be made in response to sporadic events.

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“It’s not like the birds check the news every morning to find out where they should or shouldn’t fly on their migrations,” he said.

Russell said the results may underestimate the impact of the conflict, as some eagles may also be exposed to such stress during the breeding period itself.

“At the moment there is not much we can do, but it is important that we understand the stress on these populations so that in a post-conflict scenario we can help not only support larger spotted eagle populations and not help recovery, but ecosystems as a whole,” he added.

Dr Josh Milburn, a philosopher at Loughborough University whose research examines ethical questions about animals and warfare, said the study expanded on what was already known about the negative effects of the conflict on Ukraine’s domesticated and captive wild animals.

“On rare occasions, wild animals can benefit from human conflict,” he said. “But the findings of this study reflect what we know from previous research focused on other war zones: war has an overwhelmingly negative impact on wild animals – both in terms of conservation goals and in terms of the suffering of individual animals.”

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