Why Should We Care About Migration?


This month we are focusing on the topic of migration and the dilemma of how to preserve this amazing phenomenon in the presence of human alterations to the ecosystem.

First off, why should we care?

Animal migrations are majestic. We should care just because. They inspire joy and wonder. They are part of life on earth. But, this mass movement also helps the planet.

Here are two ways they do this:

  1. Migratory songbirds consume huge numbers of caterpillars that would otherwise eat foliage from trees and shrubs. If the number of songbirds decreases, we might end up with more insect damage to forests or, given our human tendency to solve problems in a non-holistic manner, lead to an increase in the use of pesticides to control the insects. The pesticides would then damage the environment and leach into the water supply leading to a host of undesirable consequences.
  2. Salmon head for the ocean when they are young and small, growing to full size before returning to their original streams where they spawn, die, and decompose. When they decompose, their bodies provide nutrients needed by other water creatures, eagles, bears and other animals. They are an important element in the local ecology, in life and in death.

So what can we do individually or collectively to preserve migrations?
Should we intervene? Here comes the debate.

If we are the cause of re-arranging the environment and have caused harm, should we try to repair the damage? How? Should we create safe corridors along animal migration routes? I saw a picture of a bridge over a road in California that wildcats can use to get across a highway, for example. Should plants dying in warmer, low areas be genetically engineered to survive in cooler, higher areas? Is it ethically correct for us to manipulate nature in this way? Consider that we are already doing this in that many of us garden with plants that have been introduced from other areas and are not the correct food for local bugs, which feed local birds…ultimately affecting the local wildlife population. Butterflies are disappearing en masse for lack of milkweed plants along their migratory route. Should we start planting more native plants?

Should we turn out our lights at night during seasonal migrations? Can politicians agree on land management programs that protect migratory routes, but may pass through multiple states or countries, and conflict with human goals for development?

Some conservationists are wrestling with an ethical dilemma. Conservation is designed to preserve intact environments, but if the environment is changing too quickly, what then can and should be preserved? DNA? Should animals, as well as plants be bred to survive in changing habitats? Or intentionally moved to different habitats to try to establish populations? These are big ethical and scientific questions.