Migration Exhibit Opens at Cabot

Photograph  
Gulls and ruddy turnstones eat horseshoe crab eggs on the beach at Delaware Bay.
 

Road kill may seem an odd inspiration for a library exhibition, but when a colleague mentioned an article about the rising number of migratory animals killed on roads and highways, Cabot Science Reference Librarian Reed Lowrie knew he'd stumbled onto his next exhibit.

Spurred by the article, Lowrie created an exhibit, titled "Birds Do It, Bees Do It, Even Roaming Caribou Do It: Migration in the Animal Kingdom," which explores migratory behavior in animals ranging from butterflies to antelope and the impacts of human behavior and activity on migratory patterns.

"Everybody knows birds migrate," Lowrie said. "But biologists still can't agree on precisely what migration is."

What they do agree on is that literally thousands of animals engage in some form of migratory behavior, some of which will be included in the Cabot exhibit.

"We've got over 20 specimens from the Museum of Comparative Zoology," Lowrie said. The items which will be on display include six birds, several skulls, including a Thomson's gazelle and pronghorn antelope, several species of butterflies and moths and even several fish.

But as those thousands of migratory species come into contact with human activity, the results can be disastrous, Lowrie said.

"There's no question these great migrations, in most cases, are declining," Lowrie said. "The evidence is mostly anecdotal at this point, but there are fewer birds spotted, particularly at stop-over points."

And when larger animals, like caribou, come into contact with structures like highways, the results are even more dramatic.

Though there have been attempts to create corridors over and under highways, the results have so far been mixed.

"It's like a killing field out there," Lowrie said.

For many species, the end result is simply extinction.

As an example, Lowrie points to the passenger pigeon. In 19th century reports, residents of Boston and New York describe the birds as so abundant during their migration that the entire city felt as if it was twilight, all day.

Today, however, "those birds are all gone," Lowrie said. "The last one died in 1914 in captivity."

The difficulty in pointing out the dangers of human activity to migratory species, he said, is that most migratory animals still exist in large numbers, "so it's a low priority for conservation groups, because they don't have unlimited funds. If this exhibit raised awareness of the issue...I would consider it a success."

Birds Do It, Bees Do It, Even Roaming Caribou Do It: Migration in the Animal Kingdom will be on display in the Cabot Science Library exhibition case from October 17 through January 22. The exhibition is open to all Harvard students, faculty and staff during regular library hours.