One of the key goals of The Peregine Fund’s Gyrfalcon Conservation Project is to study the effects of climate change on the arctic and subarctic ecosystems by using the Gyrfalcon and their prey, namely Ptarmigan, as a microcosm of the broader system.

Rock Ptarmigan.

Rock Ptarmigan.

Researchers have been studying global climate change for some time now. In the scientific community there is no longer debate as to whether climate change is happening: it is happening and the increased presence of humans on this earth is causing it to intensify. However, there are still many questions as to what effects climate change will have on the ecology of our planet.

Nowhere are the effects of climate change felt more dramatically than in the arctic where the summer sun can shine 24-hours a day.

The Seward Peninsula, Alaska.

Snowless tundra on the Seward Peninsula, Alaska.

This year may provide a glimpse into what the arctic and subarctic ecosystems will look like in 10-50 years. All of Alaska experienced an unusually warm winter with markedly less snowfall than normal. When we arrived in Nome on May 6th, almost all of the snow around town had melted a good 3-4 weeks before normal according to the locals.

Along the Council Road east of Nome, Alaska.

Along the Council Road east of Nome, Alaska.

One would assume that warmer = better, right? Well, not necessarily. All of the plants and animals up north, and down south in the Antarctic, have evolved to withstand and thrive in the cold conditions that persist here throughout much of the year.

Breeding adult Gyrfalcon.

Breeding adult Gyrfalcon.

Less snowfall may mean more exposed shrub cover for Ptarmigan, allowing them to hide from their chief predator, the Gyrfalcon. If Ptarmigan are harder to catch then it may mean trouble for Gyrfalcons dependent on Ptarmigan to build up necessary reserves to initiate egg laying.

Our results from this first year of studying Gyrfalcons and Ptarmigan will provide a good window into the future of this long-standing predator-prey relationship.






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