Aikens, E.O., Wyckoff, T.B., Sawyer, H., and Kauffman, M.J. (2022). Industrial energy development decouples ungulate migration from the green wave. Nature Ecology and Evolution, 6(11):1733-1741. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-022-01887-9.
The ability to freely move across the landscape to track the emergence of nutritious spring green-up (termed ‘green wave surfing’) is key to the foraging strategy of migratory ungulates. Across the vast landscapes traversed by many migratory herds, habitats are being altered by development with unknown consequences for surfing. Using a unique long-term tracking dataset, we found that when energy development occurs within mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) migration corridors, migrating animals become decoupled from the green wave. During the early phases of a coalbed natural gas development, deer synchronized their movements with peak green-up. But faced with increasing disturbance as development expanded, deer altered their movements by holding up at the edge of the gas field and letting the green wave pass them by. Development often modified only a small portion of the migration corridor but had far-reaching effects on behaviour before and after migrating deer encountered it, thus reducing surfing along the entire route by 38.65% over the 14-year study period. Our study suggests that industrial development within migratory corridors can change the behaviour of migrating ungulates and diminish the benefits of migration. Such disruptions to migratory behaviour present a common mechanism whereby corridors become unprofitable and could ultimately be lost on highly developed landscapes.