Abu Dhabi: A team of researchers from the UAE, UK and Russia have been able to pinpoint which gene in peregrine falcons determines how far they fly when migrating.
The ADCY8 gene, which is known to be involved in long-term memory in other animals, is also responsible for population level differences in migratory distance among falcons. The findings were made as part of a project that studied 56 tagged peregrine falcons. It was conducted by Abu Dhabi Emirate’s environment regulator, the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD), in partnership with the Emirates Falconers Club and other researchers.
The peregrine falcon is a culturally important species in the UAE, and plays an integral role in facilitating falconry, one of the UAE’s rich cultural traditions. The bird migrates to and through the Gulf region, and the study findings will help their conservation as climate change and human development continues to impact the birds’ annual movement and migration. To enable this, researchers also predicted the effects of climate change on migration.
According to the study, the migratory connectivity between breeding and wintering grounds is likely to have been established between 7,000 and 22,000 years ago. Birds which had a dominant genotype of tf the ADCY8 gene were seen to be travelling longer distances. The study used satellite tracking technology and genome sequencing to track behaviour.
“The migration of falcons to the Gulf region has been witnessed by Arabian falconers for millennia. Now these same falconers have harnessed the collaborative efforts of international scientists to better understand the migratory patterns and how they are defined by genes so that this knowledge can be utilised in the conservation of this iconic species for future generations,” said Majid Al Mansouri, secretary general at the Emirates Falconers’ Club.
“We have invested heavily in long-term research on ecology and migration of important migratory bird species. I am delighted that this study has answered an important question on linkages between migratory connectivity and climate change for a species which has a global distribution and is an integral part of our local culture and traditions,” said Dr Shaikha Al Dhaheri, EAD secretary general.
The UAE’s support for the project was essential in facilitating satellite tracking coverage, said Dr Andrew Dixon, an ecologist at the Emirates Falconers’ Club.
“If the climate warms at the same rate it has in recent decades, peregrine populations in western Eurasia may decline and stop migrating altogether,” Dr Dixon said, highlighting the need for falcon conservation.