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.

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***** 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.

Whooping Crane flock enlarges as Wood Buffalo National Park celebrates 50th Anniversary

by Chester McConnell, FOTWW

Partners celebrating 50 years of whooping crane conservation

Parks Canada and its partners, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), are celebrating 50 years of whooping crane conservation at Wood Buffalo National Park. This international conservation partnership began in 1966 when the fragile state of the world’s last whooping crane flock brought Canadian and American partners together to share their knowledge and work on joint species recovery efforts. This example of successful international stewardship is a model for cooperation amongst conservation groups in the preservation of endangered species that cross international borders.

Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Parks Canada explained that: “The Government of Canada is committed to preserving our national parks and contributing to the recovery of species-at-risk. There is much to celebrate in the progress that has been made over the past 50 years in the recovery of this beautiful and iconic bird and I am very proud Canada’s role in this international conservation effort. I applaud Parks Canada and its partners, both domestically and in the US, for their on-going efforts to save this species-at-risk.”

FOTWW supports efforts of Wood Buffalo National Park

Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW) is one of several private groups that supports Wood Buffalo National Park and their efforts to protect and manage the only wild Whooping Crane flock on planet Earth. FOTWW joins with Wood Buffalo personnel, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others in celebrating the 50th Anniversary of outstanding Whooping Crane conservation. One highlight of the celebration is the hatching and survival of twin Whooping Crane chicks (Figure 1).

Wood Buffalo National Park

Figure 1. Only one Whooping Crane pair had twins that survived during the 2016 nesting season on Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada. The adult parents and twin juveniles are shown in the photo. The white Whoopers are adults and brown pair are juveniles. These Whoopers are now migrating towards Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast. Photo by John D. McKinnon / ©Parks Canada / Wood Buffalo National Park

Accomplishments at Wood Buffalo National Park

The accomplishments of Whooping Crane conservation are remarkable. Mike Keizer, External Relations Manager, Wood Buffalo explained that, “We have watched the Wood Buffalo-Aransas Whooping Crane flock grow from 48 birds in 1966 to 329 today.  In fact, there are almost as many chicks born this year as there were cranes in existence when this partnership began and when annual surveys began in 1966. The 2016 chick count in August 2016 found that 45 chicks were born in 2016. 43 Whooping Crane pairs had one juvenile each and one pair had two juveniles. Annual productivity was 0.57 juveniles per nest, well above than the 20-year average of 0.48 but within the long-term natural range of variation (Figure 2).

 

Wood Buffalo National Park

Figure 2. This chart depicts the number of Whooping Crane nest and chicks hatched on Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada from 1992 through 2016. Note that there were 40 nest in 1992 where 17 chicks hatched and survived. Likewise there were 79 nest in 2016 with 45 chicks hatching and surviving.

Parks Canada and the International Whooping Crane Recovery Team

Parks Canada manages one of the finest and most extensive systems of protected natural and cultural heritage areas in the world, and is a recognized world leader in conservation.

Today, the International Whooping Crane Recovery Team oversees the cranes’ recovery. This group, made up of national, provincial, territorial, and state wildlife authorities and non-government organizations, works to preserve the ecological integrity of crane habitat, identify potential threats to the cranes, and foster research that builds a greater understanding of the species.

 

***** 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.

50th Anniversary

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