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Volume 591 Issue 7849, 11 March 2021

Flight of the falcon

Little is known about what determines the migratory routes taken by birds in the Arctic. In this week’s issue, Xiangjiang Zhan and his colleagues examine the routes taken by the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) as they move from breeding grounds in the Arctic to winter in various locations across Eurasia. The researchers combined satellite tracking data from 56 falcons with 35 resequenced genomes, and used palaeoclimate data to reconstruct breeding and wintering distributions in the past for the birds. They determined that the birds’ migration patterns have been primarily shaped by environmental change since the end of the Last Glacial Maximum (22,000 years ago). The team also identified a genetic component that might be helping the birds — falcons that migrated longer distances had a dominant genotype of the gene ADCY8, which the authors suggest could be associated with the development of long-term memory and so help preserve migration routes. The cover shows a falcon fitted with a GPS transmitter for tracking its movements.

Cover image: Andrew Dixon.

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