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Researching together in the Himalayas

The Max Planck Society will agree on a scientific cooperation with the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment in Bhutan on July 29th.

The Department of Migration and Immuno-Ecology, headed by Martin Wikelski at the Department in Radolfzell is intensifying the exchange between the scientists in joint research projects, in order to gain new insights into the high-altitude migration of various species in the Himalayas.

Bhutan, the small Buddhist country with an enormously abundant flora and fauna, is a transit area and hibernation site for a large number or rare species. Its climate ranges from sub-tropic regions to a moderate climate and on to alpine regions. Three quarters of the country is forested, half of which is a protected nature conservation area, i.e. a national park or completely protected nature reserves.

The special relationship that the Bhutanese have with nature, and for whom its protection and their own personal existence go hand in hand, lies in the fact that the Himalayan forest and countryside form the "source" of their lives - "the source of life blood“, as Nawang Norbu, Director of the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment explains.

Nawang Norbu is a doctoral student at the International Max Planck Research School for Organismal Biology at the University of Constance and the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology.

The Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment, founded in 2004 and named after the first Bhutanese king, strives as a centre of excellence in south-east Asia to promote the research and scientific insight into the areas of ecology in support of the environment and its conservation. Field research courses in the country, scientific exchange and international cooperation are to help solve the urgent problems of global, climatic change, which also have consequences for the fantastic biodiversity in Bhutan.

The Max Planck Institute for Ornithology will be working together with the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment initially for three years in scientific exchange and in joint projects.

The scientists of the Department for Migration and Immuno-Ecology at the Department in Radolfzell are investigating global animal migration.

Why animals undertake this often dangerous migration and how they manage to get from one place to the other and survive this, and how one can preserve the global phenomenon of animal migration, are the central questions. The researchers find answers to these questions by fitting single individuals with biologgers and GPS transmitters that send movement patterns via satellite. The data thus obtained is collected and analysed in the "Movebank" of an international database.

In joint projects, the scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and their Bhutanese colleagues would now like to find out in fieldwork, what the main environmental influence is that the high-altitude migration of some of the species is subject to - these species often covering a difference in altitude of several thousand metres and even living quite often at a height of 5,000 m above sea-level.

Here, the researchers are also confronted with the challenge of developing new radio-telemetry techniques which fulfil the specific conditions of a very mountainous region. By taking particularly rare animals as an example, such as the endangered black-necked crane that overwinters in Bhutan, the scientists want to take more exact measures for protecting certain migration corridors, by analysing ecological data and movement patterns and subsequently helping to preserve this phenomenon of animal migration.

Leonore Apitz | Max-Planck-Institut
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