UW researchers help launch global ungulate migration mapping initiative – Buckrail
WYOMING – An international team of 92 scientists and conservationists, including some from the University of Wyoming, have joined forces to create the world’s first atlas of ungulate (hoofed mammal) migrations, in partnership with the Convention on the Conservation of Migrators. Wild Animal Species (CMS), a United Nations treaty.
Detailed maps of seasonal herd movements around the world will help governments, indigenous peoples and local communities, planners and wildlife managers identify current and future threats to migration and advance conservation measures to support them in the face of a growing human footprint.
The Global Ungulate Migration Initiative (GIUM) will be launched with the publication of a commentary, titled “Mapping a future for ungulate migration,” in the May 7 issue of the journal Science.
“A global migration atlas is urgently needed because there has never been a global inventory of these phenomenal seasonal movements,” says lead author Matthew Kauffman, who heads the Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. Wyoming Wildlife from the US Geological Survey (USGS) at UW. “As landscapes become more difficult to navigate, maps can help conservationists identify threats, identify stakeholders, and work together to find solutions.”
UW co-authors in the scientific commentary include Kauffman; Jerod Merkle, UW assistant professor of zoology and physiology, who is Knobloch professor of migration ecology and conservation; and Kevin Monteith, UW associate professor of natural resource science at UW’s Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources.
Other co-authors include UW Hall alumnus Sawyer, Western EcoSystems Technology Inc .; Ellen Aikens, from the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior in Radolfzell, Germany; Arthur Middleton, University of California; and Tom Morrison, University of Glasgow in Glasgow, Scotland.
Year after year, migrating ungulates have to pound their hooves in vast areas of the planet to find food, escape harsh conditions and reproduce. The movements are as diverse as the species themselves, which include the mule deer and elk in North America; Mongolian gazelles and saiga in Asia; wildebeest in the Serengeti; guanacos in South America; arctic caribou in Canada; and wild reindeer and red deer in North America.
From Wyoming to the Serengeti and beyond, migrating ungulates are an essential part of natural ecosystems and constitute a large part of the world’s carnivore prey. Migration also contributes to local and regional economies through harvesting and tourism, and is embedded in the culture of many communities.
Unfortunately, many ungulate migrations are in sharp decline due to human disturbances such as roads, fences and other types of development.
For example, the current migrations of Mongolian gazelles, where individuals travel hundreds of kilometers, are severely limited by border fences and new railways. Over the past decades, researchers in Kajiado County in Kenya have witnessed the near collapse of wildebeest, zebra and Thomson’s gazelle migrations due to unplanned roads, fences and other infrastructure.
Migration barriers similarly influence big game throughout the American West.
In some cases, migrations have been lost before they were even documented, highlighting the scale of the conservation challenge.
As part of the CMS Central Asian Mammals Initiative (CAMI), guidelines have been developed to remove barriers to migration along the Trans-Mongolian Railway or to make the existing infrastructure more wildlife friendly for species such as khulan, Mongolian gazelles and goiter gazelles.
The new atlas will help decision makers plan and implement additional infrastructure projects to mitigate or eliminate their barrier effects.
“The World Atlas is a very important initiative that will help promote the conservation of these unique animals,” says CMS Executive Secretary Amy Fraenkel. “We are happy to support this work and to have a powerful new tool to share with our parties and partners to strengthen their efforts to protect migratory herds around the world.
Migratory animals depend on different habitats for food, reproduction and rest. If their movements are limited, the survival of entire populations is at stake.
Climate change changes to the distribution of water, snow, ice and plant greening further complicate the way migrating herds time and navigate in their seasonal movements. The World Migration Atlas will help policymakers prioritize areas along migration routes to conserve to preserve the various benefits they provide to humanity.
The effort builds on many conservation successes made possible through migration mapping. Across the world, actions such as the expansion of protected areas, road crossing structures and work land conservation initiatives have been catalyzed by tracking actual herd migration routes.
But development and barriers are developing in many landscapes required by migrating herds. Scientists and conservationists involved in the initiative hope that detailed maps of migrations around the world will trigger similar conservation actions to support wildlife migrations.
To coordinate this important effort, the international team has partnered with the United Nations Secretariat of CMS to create the GIUM.
United Nations Environmental Treaty, CMS provides a global platform for the conservation and sustainable use of migratory animals and their habitats. This unique treaty brings together countries and wildlife experts to meet the conservation needs of migratory terrestrial, aquatic and avian species and their habitats around the world.
The new global initiative hosted by CMS will use the latest GPS tracking technology, mapping software and data sharing platforms, combined with local and indigenous knowledge. The team will also work to map lost migrations and document local and historical knowledge about animal movements.
The very few migration maps assembled today already highlight that protected areas are far too small and scattered to protect large-scale movements. At the same time, these maps highlight how well many landowners and communities have managed the working landscapes that animals traverse.
For example, the cultural traditions and identity of the Inuit and Tlicho in Canada are deeply rooted in migratory caribou. Likewise, ranchers in the western United States have greatly benefited wildlife by keeping the landscapes open to grazing cattle.
Maps that display migration data, as well as the human connections and livelihoods associated with these same landscapes, help advance sustainable conservation.
The launch of GIUM is timely, given the growing international focus on protecting biodiversity. A new United Nations global biodiversity strategy known as the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework is expected to be adopted this year. CMS parties stressed the importance of ecological connectivity, including animal migration, as a key priority for the new framework.