Are whooping cranes destined for extinction?

Are whooping cranes destined for extinction? Climate change imperils recruitment and population growth

Matther J. Butler, Kristine L. Metzger, Grant M. Harris
First published:

Summary

Are whooping cranes destined for extinction?

Whooping Cranes on their wintering grounds at Aransas NWR. Photo courtesy of Kevin Sims

Identifying climatic drivers of an animal population’s vital rates and locating where they operate steers conservation efforts to optimize species recovery. The population growth of endangered whooping cranes (Grus americana) hinges on juvenile recruitment. Therefore, we identify climatic drivers (solar activity [sunspots] and weather) of whooping crane recruitment throughout the species’ life cycle (breeding, migration, wintering).

Method and Model

Our method uses a repeated cross-validated absolute shrinkage and selection operator approach to identify drivers of recruitment. We model effects of climate change on those drivers to predict whooping crane population growth given alternative scenarios of climate change and solar activity. Years with fewer sunspots indicated greater recruitment. Increased precipitation during autumn migration signified less recruitment. On the breeding grounds, fewer days below freezing during winter and more precipitation during breeding suggested less recruitment. We predicted whooping crane recruitment and population growth may fall below long-term averages during all solar cycles when atmospheric CO2 concentration increases, as expected, to 500 ppm by 2050. Species recovery during a typical solar cycle with 500 ppm may require eight times longer than conditions without climate change and the chance of population decline increases to 31%.

Future climate change threat

Are whooping cranes destined for extinction?

Whooping cranes on nesting grounds at Wood Buffalo National Park. Photo by John D. McKinnon / ©Parks Canada / Wood Buffalo National Park

Although this whooping crane population is growing and may appear secure, long-term threats imposed by climate change and increased solar activity may jeopardize its persistence. Weather on the breeding grounds likely affects recruitment through hydrological processes and predation risk, whereas precipitation during autumn migration may influence juvenile mortality. Mitigating threats or abating climate change should occur within ≈30 years or this wild population of whooping cranes may begin declining.

To read full research article, click here.

 

***** FOTWW’s mission is to help preserve and protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo
population of wild whooping cranes and their habitat. *****

Friends of the Wild Whoopers is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization.

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Public Encouraged to Report Sightings of Whooping Cranes

Wildlife agencies asking for help

The entire population of whooping cranes in the Central Flyway is expected to migrate through Nebraska and North Dakota over the next several weeks. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the North Dakota Game and Fish Department encourages the public to report whooping crane sightings. Information on crane sightings is used to positively affect whooping crane conservation and recovery efforts.Wildlife agencies in Nebraska and North Dakota are seeking the public’s help in reporting whooping crane sightings as they make their spring migration through the two states.

Nebraska reports

If you see a whooping crane in Nebraska, please report your whooping crane sighting to Nebraska Game and Parks (402-471-0641), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (308-379-5562), or The Crane Trust’s Whooper Watch hotline (888-399-2824). Emails may be submitted to joel.jorgensen@nebraska.gov.

North Dakota reports

If you see a whooping crane in North Dakota, please report your whooping crane sighting to, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offices at Lostwood, (701) 848-2466, or Long Lake, (701) 387-4397, national wildlife refuges; the state Game and Fish Department in Bismarck, (701) 328-6300;; or to local game wardens across the state.

Should you see a whooping crane, please do not get close or disturb it. Keep your distance and make a note of date, time, location, and what the whooping crane is doing.

Reason for reporting

You may wonder why the wild life agencies are asking for these sightings to be reported. The reports are very helpful in gathering data and information on when and where the whooping cranes stopover, what type of habitat they are choosing, and how many there are.

With just over 300 wild whooping cranes migrating along the Central Flyway, odds are low of seeing a wild whooping crane. However, FOTWW hopes that someone reading this article will be one of the lucky few and if you are, please report your sighting so that these agencies and other conservation groups, including FOTWW can continue helping these magnificent cranes.

 

Wildlife agencies seeking help with whooping crane sightings.

Whooping Cranes in Flight. Photo by Charles Hardin.

 

***** FOTWW’s mission is to help preserve and protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo
population of wild whooping cranes and their habitat. *****

Friends of the Wild Whoopers is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization.

Share