A combination of good timing combined with clear and surprising results.
Does it describe a new discovery, methodology, or
synthesis of knowledge?
The paper describes a new discovery; in addition, the paper also provides a
new methodology which had not previously been used in this field. Indeed,
much of our work rests on the analysis of large data sets using fairly
advanced statistical techniques—I’ve been fortunate to have
been collaborating with a broad spectrum of statisticians over the years.
Would you summarize the significance of your paper in
Before the publication of this paper the general understanding was that
small birds spending the winter in Africa had not changed their timing of
spring migration to the same extent as birds spending the whole year in
Europe. Furthermore, there seemed to be a consensus view that any
advancement of spring arrival in Central and Northern Europe could be
explained by more rapid migration through Europe.
We clearly showed that songbirds wintering in Africa have advanced their
timing of spring arrival in Scandinavia at least to the same extent as
other small birds wintering in Europe. Furthermore, the earlier arrival is
detectable already in southern Italy, which suggests that they either leave
Africa earlier or migrate faster through Africa. We also opened up for a
discussion about to what extent these patterns suggest that evolutionary
changes are taking place.
How did you become involved in this research, and were
there any problems along the way?
The project grew out of a lifelong interest in what casus ecological
changes such as the timing of bird migration. When we started a Nordic
Centre of Excellence (EcoClim) I was offered the opportunity to join forces
in the analysis of long-term data on bird migration based upon highly
accurate observations at several Nordic bird observatories. From the very
start, I wanted to make our work on bird migration the flagship of
EcoClim—which it became through the publication of the
Science paper now being highlighted. Through the Nordic (and
European) collaboration, we obtained access to lots of data as well as the
utilization of a team of devoted and talented scholars who profoundly
complemented each other.
Where do you see your research leading in the
The next step is to focus on how the timing of biological events, such as
migration and breeding, affect fitness in terms of survival and
reproduction. Also we would like to know more about what makes a given
species more or less vulnerable to environmental changes following from
climate change. I do see a real possibility for extending the Nordic
platform into a broader European platform.
Do you foresee any social or political implications for
To observe that bird migrations change directly in response to climate
change—and that these changes might have caused evolutionary changes,
may contribute to making politicians and laypeople aware of the seriousness
of climate change. Once we can quantify the relative importance of, e.g.,
climate change, forestry, agriculture, etc. for population viability in
migratory birds, there will clearly be implications for any country
striving for sustainable development.
Nils Chr. Stenseth Professor and Chair of Ecology and Evolution
Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis (CEES)
Department of Biology
CR SPECIAL 17 looks at the effects of
climate on bird migration. The phenology of bird migration is
linked to the timing of the onset of spring and fall, and is
thus affected by climate variation and change.
Keywords: spring migration, migratory birds, timing
of bird migration, Nordic Centre of Excellence (EcoClim), Nordic bird