The February 2007 issue of BioScience, the monthly journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), includes a special section on animal migration that features six articles exploring biologists' understanding of this pervasive and vital syndrome.
Animal migration fascinated the ancients and continues to fascinate researchers today. An often highly complex, synchronized suite of changes in behavior, morphology, and physiology enables journeys that may be epic in scale. These feats of endurance and navigation are widely regarded as some of the most astonishing of nature's spectacles. Researchers have gained some important insights into the evolution of migration, yet very much remains unknown about the multiple mechanisms that animals call on when they migrate.
Technology is starting to help. In recent years, new capabilities resulting from the revolution in molecular biology have made phenomena such as migration increasingly susceptible to analysis in genetic and even molecular terms. In addition, advances in tracking techniques, including stable isotope analysis for identifying locations an animal has visited and miniaturization of transmitters and receivers, have started to contribute to scientific understanding of migration.
Another reason for focusing on migration is more urgent. Global warming is changing the timing of bud bursts and myriad other cyclical processes that provide food for wildlife, and driving many birds and insects to move their ranges. In some birds, warming may favor shorter migration distances, but the complexity of migration is such that trying to predict the consequences for species in general borders on the impossible. Yet only by obtaining a clearer picture of how migration really works will researchers be able to plan strategies for mitigating the effects of warming.
BioScience's special section on animal migration was coordinated by Hugh Dingle and V. Alistair Drake, who have brought together a distinguished group of authors. Dingle and Drake provide the broadest generalizations about the nature of migration, which can be seen as an adaptation to fluctuating resources. Susanne Åkesson and Anders Hedenström describe experimental approaches to the question of how migrants achieve their navigations, and suggest that future research will need to investigate a range of natural cues. Marilyn Ramenofsky and John C. Wingfield describe morphological and physiological adaptations involved in seasonal migrations. They note that the control mechanisms that regulate migration and coordinate it with local conditions are largely unknown, and that the potential for disruption by climate change is great. Robert A. Cheke and Jamie A. Tratalos discuss some of the complexities of migration for two African pest species (red-billed queleas and desert locusts): they argue that predicting the details of future ecological changes will call for greater understanding of the population dynamics and genetic composition of many organisms.
Derek A. Roff and Daphne J. Fairbairn describe the genetic architecture of several components of the migratory syndrome in the sand cricket, Gryllus firmus. And Francisco Pulido shows how genetic correlations among migratory traits and with other traits are likely to play a major role in determining the direction of future evolutionary changes in migration.
BioScience publishes commentary and peer-reviewed articles covering a wide range of biological fields, with a focus on "Organisms from Molecules to the Environment." The journal has been published since 1964. AIBS is an umbrella organization for professional scientific societies and organizations that are involved with biology. It represents some 200 member societies and organizations with a combined membership of about 250,000.
Materials provided by American Institute of Biological Sciences. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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