Arctic Tern possibly resilient to climate change, suggests study


A new study suggests that Arctic Tern may be able to navigate the dangers posed by climate change.

The research examined the likely impacts of climate change on Arctic Tern – well-known for being the species that migrates the furthest distances on Earth – outside of the breeding season. It investigated changes to prevailing winds, primary productivity (which impacts food availability) at key sites visited by Arctic Terns and the projected decline of Antarctic sea ice.

The study examined prevailing winds, primary productivity at key sites visited by Arctic Terns and the projected decline of Antarctic sea ice (A Dancy).

While poorer foraging in the North Atlantic seems likely to pose a threat for them in the future, the study – led by the University of Exeter and the Met Office and published in Global Change Biology – concluded that the overall effects of climate change for migrating terns should be minor. Indeed, the researchers suggest they are likely to be resilient due to living their lives over such vast areas.

The study used observations of ongoing climate change and multiple climate and Earth System Models to project changes by 2100. It examined the impacts of two emissions scenarios: 'middle-of-the-road' and 'fossil-fuelled development'.

The latter led to a projected decline of primary productivity in the North Atlantic. However, minimal changes to primary productivity were projected at three other key sites for Arctic Terns: the Benguela Upwelling, the Subantarctic Indian Ocean and the Southern Ocean.

Meanwhile, the impact of likely Antarctic sea ice decline on terns is uncertain, and the projections suggested small changes to prevailing winds would have "minimal impacts" on tern migration.



Morten, J M, et al. 2023. Global warming and arctic terns: Estimating climate change impacts on the world's longest migration. Global Change Biology. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.16891