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Historically, their departure to tropical beaches and their arrival back to the Arctic after the cold relents were perfectly timed, when plenty of food was available in both areas.
But . . . [w]arming has caused Arctic snow to retreat earlier, causing insect populations that peak as the snow melts to rise and fall before chicks can eat as many as they need to grow and power the grueling flights to come.
As a result, red knots are physically shrinking. And because the smaller birds are weaker, they’re dying off and causing the population to shrink as well.
The shrinkage is a fairly rapid evolution that happened over the past three decades. “Analysis of satellite images has shown that over the past 33 years, snow at the red knot’s breeding grounds has progressively melted earlier, at a rate of half a day per year, so that’s now more than two weeks,”
This non-genetic change in size due to a lack of nutrition could lead to genetic effects later, van Gils said. “For example, the smaller birds will lay smaller eggs themselves. Imagine that the chicks hatching from those eggs grow up under ideal circumstances. They [could] become bigger than their parents, but they will still be smaller than they should be because they started small. So there is some generation-to-generation effect in there as well.”
According to estimates calculated at the turn of the century, red knot numbers have fallen by nearly 60,000, and “the threat of extinction is more than real”