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1 September 2011 Bird Migration and Global Change
Marilyn Ramenofsky
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Bird Migration and Global Change is a compendium of factual material—recorded alterations in the behavior, breeding, and annual schedules of migratory birds—that offers insight into the compelling issues of a planet in flux. The intended purpose of the book is to provide a comprehensive account of interrelated topics, including meteorological conditions, climatological events, alterations of temperature, air and oceanic currents, ecological habitats, and biota—all features that affect migratory species. It is thorough in its treatment of the subject, well organized and divided into geographic delineations of ecological habitats, which call to mind R. H. MacArthur's Geographical Ecology. Although this new book is not the only text of its type on the market, its contribution to the field of migration is of critical importance, because it recounts past and current events and provides a roadmap for the practices of conservation in a valiant effort to preserve migratory species—particularly those at risk.


This book is a valuable resource not only for the compilation of facts but also for its broad scope, with many inspired tables but only a few figures. The chapters are short, with clearly defined subdivisions, and each has a definitive summary. Author George W. Cox, a professor emeritus of biology at San Diego State University, is a life-long student of birds and their migrations. He moves through species descriptions quickly; some are more in depth than others, and some cases are more anecdotal in nature. The strongest chapters are those in which the empirical data are most firm—for example, chapter 8 (“High latitude species of land birds: Palearctic long-distance migrants”), chapter 12 (“Shorebirds”), and chapter 16 (“Oceanic birds: Southern Hemisphere”). In other chapters, the text is more of a call to action for those lesser-known species of birds, whose survival is impinged by current climatic conditions. Cox also relates a number of personal field experiences in both the Arctic and the Antarctic, which adds endearing touches throughout the book.

Structured consistently throughout, the text begins with basic climatic information then applies these facts to both avian taxonomic and geographical divisions. The breadth of information is commendable, as is the scholarship of the writing. The aspects of bird migration covered include behavior, physiology, flight routes, timing, and distance. The issues of physiological responses to change and genetic potential for adaptation are also addressed. However the book's strengths lie in the ecological and climatological realms; the chapters on the physiological and genetic aspects of birds are the weakest. I suggest that the book is best used as resource material and would be less effective as an undergraduate textbook.

Bird Migration and Global Change represents a heartfelt effort by the author, who has pulled together a tremendous amount of information from a wide array of fields. This contribution to science gives its readers an appreciation and awareness of the vast number of migratory bird species and their geographical habitats—habitats that offer seasonal resources to support migration and breeding but which are vulnerable to climatic alterations. With time, availability of such resources may improve or worsen; however, issues of projected changes in the phenotypes of migrants and, ultimately, their evolution are discussed offering some hopeful notes on a rather dire subject in the final chapters. Data from both molecular and behavioral studies certainly suggest that genetic heterogeneity within populations of migrants may contribute to adaptations by individuals to changing environmental conditions.

It is worth noting that although global climate change is imminent, the planet has historically undergone dramatic shifts in temperature, oxygen content, and precipitation, during which many migrant populations appeared or disappeared. The period of climatic change referenced in the book ranges from 1970 to the early years of the twenty-first century. To estimate changes beyond these dates, Cox relies on climatic models, which come with a measurable degree of uncertainty, given the vagaries of planetary and meteorological events and the resulting impact on migrants. This approach points to the continued need for more complete and accurate monitoring of environmental conditions, in relation to the responses of migrants. To his credit, Cox has provided a valuable guide for continuing research in the realm of bird migration biology.

Marilyn Ramenofsky "Bird Migration and Global Change," BioScience 61(9), 727-728, (1 September 2011).
Published: 1 September 2011

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