Spanish research on avian migration: historical trajectory and future perspectives

Authors: Javier PÉREZ-TRIS and TomÁs SANTOS

Published: Volume 51(1), June 2004. Pages 71-89.

Language: Spanish

Original Title: El estudio de la migración de aves en España: trayectoria histórica y perspectivas de futuro

Keywords: Avian migration, bird wintering, development of science and Spanish ornithology.


Aim: To value the importance of research on avian migration for the development and current status of Spanish ornithology.

Results and Conclusions: Avian migration has always been an outstanding field in ornithology. This assertion is particularly true in Spain, as we illustrate here by discussing the contribution of migration research to both the scientific and historical development of Spanish ornithology. After all, the Iberian Peninsula is one of the best scenarios for the study of migration in Europe (Fig. 1), as it forms natural bridges for birds migrating between Europe and Africa and between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. As well, it is one of the main wintering grounds for European birds in the Mediterranean area. Migration ecology experienced a relatively early development in Spain, compared to other fields in ornithology. Short after the foundation of the Spanish Ornithological Society (SEO) in 1954, migration surveys often triggered pioneering attempts to build up long-term research programs (Table 1). Thus, massive ringing campaigns were among the very first scientific activities organised by SEO, and became formally regularised with the creation of the Bird Migration Centre (CMA) in 1957, one of the first successful attempts to institutionalize ornithological research in Spain. Later on, these activities acquired international relevance with the publication of their results in international meetings, and the participation of the CMA in the foundation of EURING. These facts, together with the creation of the Spanish Group of Raptor Migration (GEMRA) for monitoring the passage of soaring birds across the Strait of Gibraltar, were fundamental pieces in the training of a whole generation of Spanish ornithologists. Perhaps migration gained a prominent position relative to other fields in Spain owing to the personal interests of Francisco Bernis, who was responsible, directly or indirectly, of most of the achievements of a newly born Spanish ornithology (from the 1940´s to the late 1970´s). Leading the foundation of SEO, he published a profuse collection of seminal reports, monographs and handbooks, which pushed forward several fields of ornithology in Spain, but paid special attention to migration. Such interests could be motivated by a late advent of Spanish ornithological research in the international framework: the advantages of the Iberian Peninsula for the study of migration, and the still poor knowledge of the ecological processes occurring south of the scientifically leading countries (central and northern Europe), offered a good opportunity for Bernis´school to make a contribution of general relevance to the scientific community. Thus, the analysis of ringing recoveries in Spain of birds ringed in Europe, the ecological and evolutionary interpretation of wintering in the Mediterranean (Table 1), or the study of visible migration in Gibraltar (Fig. 2) were all major contributions of F. Bernis to the growth and international diffusion of Spanish ornithology. This contribution of migration studies to the maturation of Spanish ornithology is also reflected by nearly as many publications on migration in Ardeola, the Spanish ornithological journal, as there were derived from faunistic research (which traditionally dominated the contents of the journal; Fig. 3). Today, Spanish ornithology has reached a high average standard, being recognised as internationally influential. As a consequence, the research published in Ardeola seeks to broaden its potential readership (using more frequently the English language) and has become increasingly professionalized (Fig. 4). This healthiness of Spanish ornithology in general is also perceived in migration research (Fig. 4). Spanish researchers and amateurs (particularly ringers) are keen to enrol in international co-operative projects, being institutionally supported by the Spanish ringing scheme (Migratory Species Office, Ministry of Environment). As an immediate benefit, this should help us to put our knowledge on migration through and to the Iberian Peninsula in a broader ecological and geographic context. Besides, Spanish researchers are taking advantage of excellent chances to study the ecological and evolutionary implications of migration and wintering in the Mediterranean. Future research should contribute to fulfil the social demand for studies that may help us to foresee the consequences of processes such as climate change or habitat destruction, a research front that both Spanish authorities and scientists have a decisive obligation to push forward.

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