Although migration is a widespread and taxonomically diverse behaviour, the ecological factors shaping migratory behaviour are poorly understood. Like other montane taxa, many birds migrate along elevational gradients in the tropics. Forty years ago, Alexander Skutch postulated that severe storms could drive birds to migrate downhill. Here, we articulate a novel mechanism that could link storms to mortality risks via reductions in foraging time and provide, to our knowledge, the first tests of this hypothesis in the White-ruffed Manakin (Corapipo altera), a small partially migratory frugivore breeding on the Atlantic slope of Costa Rica. As predicted, variation in rainfall was associated with plasma corticosterone levels, fat stores, plasma metabolites and haematocrit. By collecting data at high and low elevation sites simultaneously, we also found that high-elevation residents were more adversely affected by storms than low elevation migrants. These results, together with striking temporal capture patterns of altitudinal migrants relative to storms, provide, to our knowledge, the first evidence that weather-related risks incurred by species requiring high food intake rates can explain altitudinal migrations of tropical animals. These findings resolve conflicting evidence for and against food limitation being important in the evolution of this behaviour, and highlight how endogenous and exogenous processes influence life-history trade-offs made by individuals in the wild. Because seasonal storms are a defining characteristic of most tropical ecosystems and rainfall patterns will probably change in ensuing decades, these results have important implications for understanding the ecology, evolution and conservation of tropical animals.
allostasis; climate change; foraging; metabolism; partial migration; tropical forest
Male reproductive coalitions, in which males cooperate to attract females, are a rare strategy among vertebrates. While some studies have investigated ultimate aspects of these relationships, little is known about the mechanistic role that hormones play in modulating cooperative behaviours. Here, we examined male testosterone variation in a tropical lekking bird, the wire-tailed manakin (Pipra filicauda), which exhibits cooperative male–male display coalitions. We found that testosterone levels in territorial males were comparable to those of temperate breeding birds, a surprising result given their environmental, social and reproductive dynamics. In addition, social status rather than plumage was a strong predictor of testosterone variation. Territorial males had significantly higher testosterone levels than did two other plumage classes of floater males, who do not hold territories. We hypothesize that testosterone variation plays an important role in the establishment of male dominance hierarchies (competition), while concurrently facilitating stable display partnerships (cooperation).
cooperation; competition; lekking; reproductive coalitions; testosterone; wire-tailed manakin
The failure of animals to fit all life-cycle stages into an annual cycle could reduce the chances of successful breeding. In some cases, non-optimal strategies will be adopted in order to maintain the life-cycle within the scope of one year. We studied trade-offs made by a High Arctic migrant shorebird, the red knot Calidris canutus islandica, between reproduction and wing feather molt carried out in the non-breeding period in the Dutch Wadden Sea. We compared primary molt duration between birds undertaking the full migratory and breeding schedule with birds that forego breeding because they are young or are maintained in captivity. Molt duration was ca. 71 days in breeding adults, which was achieved by an accelerated feather replacement strategy. Second-year birds and captive adults took ca. 22% and 27% longer, respectively. Second-year birds start molt in late June, more than four weeks before captive adults, and almost seven weeks before adults that return from breeding in late July–August. Adults finish molt in October when steeply increasing thermostatic costs and reductions in food availability occur. Primary molt duration was longer in female than in male knots (all ages), which was accordance with the somewhat larger body size of females. Since fast growth leads to lower quality feathers, the speedy wing molt shown by Arctic-breeding birds may represent a time constraint that is an unavoidable and routine cost of reproduction. So far it was hypothesized that only birds over 1 kg would have difficulty fitting molt within a year. Here we show that in birds an order of magnitude smaller, temporal imperatives may impose the adoption of non-optimal life-cycle routines in the entire actively breeding population.
Recent climatic change is causing spring events in northern temperate regions to occur earlier in the year. As a result, migratory birds returning from tropical wintering sites may arrive too late to take full advantage of the food resources on their breeding grounds. Under these conditions, selection will favour earlier spring arrival that could be achieved by overwintering closer to the breeding grounds. However, it is unknown how daylength conditions at higher latitudes will affect the timing of life cycle stages. Here, we show in three species of Palaearctic-African migratory songbirds that a shortening of migration distance induces an advancement of springtime activities. Birds exposed to daylengths simulating migration to and wintering in southern Europe considerably advanced their spring migratory activity and testicular development. This response to the novel photoperiodic environment will enable birds wintering further north to advance spring arrival and to start breeding earlier. Thus, phenotypic flexibility in response to the photoperiod may reinforce selection for shorter migration distance if spring temperatures continue to rise.
Migration has evolved as a strategy to maximise individual fitness in response to seasonally changing ecological and environmental conditions. However, migration can also incur costs, and quantifying these costs can provide important clues to the ultimate ecological forces that underpin migratory behaviour. A key emerging model to explain migration in many systems posits that migration is driven by seasonal changes to a predation/growth potential (p/g) trade-off that a wide range of animals face. In this study we assess a key assumption of this model for a common cyprinid partial migrant, the roach Rutilus rutilus, which migrates from shallow lakes to streams during winter. By sampling fish from stream and lake habitats in the autumn and spring and measuring their stomach fullness and diet composition, we tested if migrating roach pay a cost of reduced foraging when migrating. Resident fish had fuller stomachs containing more high quality prey items than migrant fish. Hence, we document a feeding cost to migration in roach, which adds additional support for the validity of the p/g model of migration in freshwater systems.
Cuckoos (family Cuculidae) show the highest diversity of breeding strategies within one bird family (parental care, facultative and obligate brood parasites). We used independent contrasts from two phylogenies to examine how this variation was related to 13 ecological and life-history variables. The ancestral state was probably tropical, resident, forest cuckoos with parental care. The evolution of brood parasitism was correlated with a shift to more open habitats, a change in diet, increases in species breeding-range size and migration, and a decrease in egg size. Once parasitism had evolved, more elaborate parasitic strategies (more harmful to host fitness) were correlated with decreased egg size, a change in diet, increased breeding-range size and migration, a shortened breeding season and a decrease in local abundance. Establishing the most probable evolutionary pathways, using the method of Pagel, shows that changes in ecological variables (such as migration, range size and diet type) preceded the evolution of brood parasitism, which is likely to be a later adaptation to reduce the cost of reproduction. By contrast, brood parasitism evolved before changes in egg size occurred, indicating that egg size is an adaptive trait in host--parasite coevolution. Our results suggest that the evolution of cuckoo brood parasitism reflects selection from both ecological pressures and host defences.
Migratory bird species have smaller brains than non-migratory species. The behavioural flexibility/migratory precursor hypothesis suggests that sedentary birds have larger brains to allow the behavioural flexibility required in a seasonally variable habitat. The energy trade-off hypothesis proposes that brains are heavy, energetically expensive and therefore, incompatible with migration. Here, we compared relative brain, neocortex and hippocampus volume between migratory and sedentary bats at the species-level and using phylogenetically independent contrasts. We found that migratory bats had relatively smaller brains and neocortices than sedentary species. Our results support the energy trade-off hypothesis because bats do not exhibit the same degree of flexibility in diet selection as sedentary birds. Our results also suggest that bat brain size differences are subtler than those found in birds, perhaps owing to bats' shorter migration distances. Conversely, we found no difference in relative hippocampus volume between migratory and sedentary species, underscoring our limited understanding of the role of the hippocampus in bats.
bats; brain size; hippocampus; migration; neocortex
Population declines along the lower-latitude edge of a species' range may be diagnostic of climate change. We report evidence that climate change has contributed to deteriorating reproductive success in a rapidly declining population of the grey jay (Perisoreus canadensis) at the southern edge of its range. This non-migratory bird of boreal and subalpine forest lives on permanent territories, where it hoards enormous amounts of food for winter and then breeds very early, under still-wintry conditions. We hypothesized that warmer autumns have increased the perishability of hoards and compromised subsequent breeding attempts. Our analysis confirmed that warm autumns, especially when followed by cold late winters, have led to delayed breeding and reduced reproductive success. Our findings uniquely show that weather months before the breeding season impact the timing and success of breeding. Warm autumns apparently represent hostile conditions for this species, because it relies on cold storage. Our study population may be especially vulnerable, because it is situated at the southern edge of the range, where the potential for hoard rot is most pronounced. This population's demise may signal a climate-driven range contraction through local extinctions along the trailing edge.
climate change; demography; grey jay; Perisoreus canadensis; hoarding
Although seabirds that are trans-equatorial migrants show apparently broad overlap among populations in the non-breeding season, such large-scale pattern may conceal subtle but nevertheless key differences in migratory behaviour. These specializations could reflect adaptation to different environments during the breeding season, carry-over effects from the breeding to the nonbreeding period, or asymmetries in competitive ability of birds of different origin. We compared the migratory and wintering behaviour of Cory's shearwaters Calonectris diomedea nesting in Berlengas and in the Selvagens, two colonies in contrasting oceanographic environments, separated by ca. 1200 km. Although no differences were found in winter distribution, there was a marked divergence in timing, route and the use of staging areas during the postbreeding (autumn) migration. Birds from Berlengas typically travelled to oceanic waters in the North Atlantic for an extended stopover, whereas those from Selvagens rarely did so. In the South Atlantic, birds from Selvagens spent more time in flight, perhaps because they had higher energy and nutrient requirements for feather replacement compared to birds from Berlengas, which moult more flight feathers during breeding. Stable isotope analyses of feathers suggested that this variation in activity patterns was unrelated to trophic ecology. Differences in migration routes and stopovers may expose populations to distinct threats, and should be taken into consideration when defining units for conservation purposes and developing appropriate management strategies.
When species occupy habitats that vary in quality, choice of habitat can be critical in determining individual fitness. In most migratory species, juveniles migrate independently of their parents and must therefore choose both breeding and winter habitats. Using a unique dataset of marked black-tailed godwits (Limosa limosa islandica) tracked throughout their migratory range, combined with analyses of stable carbon isotope ratios, we show that those individuals that occupy higher quality breeding sites also use higher quality winter sites. This seasonal matching can severely inflate inequalities in individual fitness. This population has expanded over the last century into poorer quality breeding and winter habitats and, across the whole population; individual birds tend to occupy either novel or traditional sites in both seasons. Winter and breeding season habitat selection are thus strongly linked throughout this population; these links have profound implications for a wide range of population and evolutionary processes. As adult godwits are highly philopatric, the initial choice of winter habitat by juveniles will be critical in determining future survival, timing of migration and breeding success.
migratory birds; seasonal interactions; habitat quality; conservation
During the non-breeding period, many birds migrate to milder areas, found closer to the equator than their breeding sites. Opposite movements are very rare. In the Southern Ocean, the abundance of 13C declines markedly with more southern latitude, providing a characteristic 13C isoscape. This can be used as a tracer for the movement of seabirds between breeding and inter-breeding areas, by comparing stable isotope ratios of feathers grown at different times of the year.
We studied seasonal movements of Thin-billed prions (Aves, Procellariiformes), breeding at the Subantarctic Falkland/Malvinas Islands, compared with those of Wilson's storm-petrels breeding in the Antarctic South Shetland Islands. The two species showed opposite migratory movements. While Wilson's storm-petrels moved to warmer waters north of the Drake Passage in winter, Thin-billed prions showed a reversed movement towards more polar waters. Carbon stable isotope ratios in recent and historical feathers indicated that poleward winter movements of Thin-billed prions were less common historically (45% in 1913-1915), and have only recently become dominant (92% in 2003-2005), apparently in response to warming sea temperatures.
This study shows that pelagic seabirds can rapidly change migration strategies within populations, including migration towards more poleward waters in winter.
The small size of the billions of migrating songbirds commuting between temperate breeding sites and the tropics has long prevented the study of the largest part of their annual cycle outside the breeding grounds. Using light-level loggers (geolocators), we recorded the entire annual migratory cycle of the red-backed shrike Lanius collurio, a trans-equatorial Eurasian-African passerine migrant. We tested differences between autumn and spring migration for nine individuals. Duration of migration between breeding and winter sites was significantly longer in autumn (average 96 days) when compared with spring (63 days). This difference was explained by much longer staging periods during autumn (71 days) than spring (9 days). Between staging periods, the birds travelled faster during autumn (356 km d–1) than during spring (233 km d–1). All birds made a protracted stop (53 days) in Sahelian sub-Sahara on southbound migration. The birds performed a distinct loop migration (22 000 km) where spring distance, including a detour across the Arabian Peninsula, exceeded the autumn distance by 22 per cent. Geographical scatter between routes was particularly narrow in spring, with navigational convergence towards the crossing point from Africa to the Arabian Peninsula. Temporal variation between individuals was relatively constant, while different individuals tended to be consistently early or late at different departure/arrival occasions during the annual cycle. These results demonstrate the existence of fundamentally different spatio-temporal migration strategies used by the birds during autumn and spring migration, and that songbirds may rely on distinct staging areas for completion of their annual cycle, suggesting more sophisticated endogenous control mechanisms than merely clock-and-compass guidance among terrestrial solitary migrants. After a century with metal-ringing, year-round tracking of long-distance migratory songbirds promises further insights into bird migration.
avian migration; geolocator; passerine; migration speed; phenology; migration routes
Each autumn billions of songbirds migrate between the temperate zone and tropics, but little is known about how events on the breeding grounds affect migration to the tropics. Here, we use light level geolocators to track the autumn migration of wood thrushes Hylocichla mustelina and test for the first time if late moult and poor physiological condition prior to migration delays arrival on the winter territory. Late nesting thrushes postponed feather moult, and birds with less advanced moult in August were significantly farther north on 10 October while en route to the tropics. Individuals in relatively poor energetic condition in August (high β-Hydroxybutyrate, low triglyceride, narrow feather growth bars) passed into the tropics significantly later in October. However, late moult and poor pre-migratory condition did not result in late arrival on the winter territory because stopover duration was highly variable late in migration. Although carry-over effects from the winter territory to spring migration may be strong in migratory songbirds, our study suggests that high reproductive effort late in the season does not impose time constraints that delay winter territory acquisition.
migration; geolocator; neotropical migrant; plasma metabolite; moult
Climatic warming has intensified selection for earlier reproduction in many organisms, but potential constraints imposed by climate change outside the breeding period have received little attention. Migratory birds provide an ideal model for exploring such constraints because they face warming temperatures on temperate breeding grounds and declining rainfall on many tropical non-breeding areas. Here, we use longitudinal data on spring departure dates of American redstarts (Setophaga ruticilla) to show that annual variation in tropical rainfall and food resources are associated with marked change in the timing of spring departure of the same individuals among years. This finding challenges the idea that photoperiod alone regulates the onset of migration, providing evidence that intensifying drought in the tropical winter could hinder adaptive responses to climatic warming in the temperate zone.
American redstart; climate change; ecological constraint; microevolution; phenotypic plasticity; Setophaga ruticilla
The migratory biology and connectivity of passerines remains poorly known, even for those that move primarily within the temperate zone. We used light-level geolocators to describe the migratory geography of a North American temperate migrant passerine. From February to March of 2010, we attached geolocator tags to 33 Golden-crowned Sparrows (Zonotrichia atricapilla) wintering on the central coast of California, USA, and recovered four tags the following winter (October to December 2010). We used a Bayesian state-space model to estimate the most likely breeding locations. All four birds spent the breeding season on the coast of the Gulf of Alaska. These locations spanned approximately 1200 kilometers, and none of the individuals bred in the same location. Speed of migration was nearly twice as fast during spring than fall. The return rate of birds tagged the previous season (33%) was similar to that of control birds (39%), but comparing return rates was complicated because 7 of 11 returning birds had lost their tags. For birds that we recaptured before spring migration, we found no significant difference in mass change between tagged and control birds. Our results provide insight into the previously-unknown breeding provenance of a wintering population of Golden-crowned Sparrows and provide more evidence of the contributions that light-level geolocation can make to our understanding of the migratory geography of small passerines.
The ability to connect breeding, stopover and wintering locations of populations of migratory birds greatly enhances our understanding of the phenomenon of migration and improves our chances of effectively conserving these species. Among Palearctic-Afrotropical migratory species, aerial insectivores like the house martin (Delichon urbicum) are sensitive to factors influencing the availability of flying insects, and have declined in recent decades. The strict aerial behaviour of martins severely limits ring recoveries on wintering grounds and so there is a dearth of information on where European breeding populations over-winter in Africa, and the relative effects of population regulation on breeding vs. wintering grounds. We used a newly developed multi-isotope (δ2H, δ13C, δ15N) feather isoscape for Africa together with inferences from summarized ring return data based on longitude, to assign winter origins to birds captured at a breeding colony in The Netherlands.
Based on isotopic analyses of winter-grown martin feathers, we used a likelihood-based assignment approach to describe potential wintering locations where molt occurred of individual house martins from a Dutch colony by assigning them to four potential isotopically distinct clusters in Africa. We found the overwhelming majority of Dutch martins were assigned to a geographical cluster associated with West Africa.
The existence of strong isotopic gradients and patterns in African foodwebs that support migratory wildlife allows for the spatial assignment of tissues grown there. The assignment of Dutch house martins to wintering grounds primarily in West Africa was in strong agreement with independent and indirect methods used to infer winter origins of this species based on the association between the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) in Africa and population patterns in Italy and the United Kingdom. These confirmatory data-sets underscore the importance of suitable habitats in West Africa to the conservation of migratory aerial insectivores and other species.
Soaring birds that undertake long-distance migration should develop strategies to minimize the energetic costs of endurance flight. This is relevant because condition upon completion of migration has direct consequences for fecundity, fitness and thus, demography. Therefore, strong evolutionary pressures are expected for energy minimization tactics linked to weather and topography. Importantly, the minute-by-minute mechanisms birds use to subsidize migration in variable weather are largely unknown, in large part because of the technological limitations in studying detailed long-distance bird flight. Here, we show golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) migratory response to changing meteorological conditions as monitored by high-resolution telemetry. In contrast to expectations, responses to meteorological variability were stereotyped across the 10 individuals studied. Eagles reacted to increased wind speed by using more orographic lift and less thermal lift. Concomitantly, as use of thermals decreased, variation in flight speed and altitude also decreased. These results demonstrate how soaring migrant birds can minimize energetic expenditures, they show the context for avian decisions and choices of specific instantaneous flight mechanisms and they have important implications for design of bird-friendly wind energy.
movement ecology; flight behaviour; migration; flight response; high-resolution GPS–GSM telemetry
The spread of insect-borne animal virus diseases is influenced by a number of factors. Hosts migrate, move or are conveyed over long distances: vectors are carried on the wind for varying distances in search of hosts and breeding sites; weather and climate affect hosts and vectors through temperature, moisture and wind. As parasites of host and vector, viruses are carried by animals, birds and insects, and their spread can be correlated with the migration of hosts and the carriage of vectors on winds associated with the movements of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) and warm winds to the north and south of the limits of the ITCZ. The virus is often transmitted from a local cycle to a migratory cycle and back again.
Examples of insect-borne virus diseases and their spread are analysed. Japanese, Murray Valley, Western equine, Eastern equine and St Louis encephalitis represent viruses transmitted by mosquito—bird or pig cycles.
The areas experiencing infection with these viruses can be divided into a number of zones: A, B, C, D, E and F. In zone A there is a continuous cycle of virus in host and vector throughout the year; in zone B, there is an upsurge in the cycle during the wet season, but the cycle continues during the dry season; there is movement of infected vectors between and within zones A and B on the ITCZ and the virus is introduced to zone C by infected vectors on warm winds; persistence may occur in zone C if conditions are right. In zone D, virus is introduced each year by infected vectors on warm winds and the arrival of the virus coincides with the presence of susceptible nestling birds and susceptible piglets. The disappearance of virus occurs at the time when migrating mosquitoes and birds are returning to warmer climates. The virus is introduced to zone E only on occasions every 5-10 years when conditions are suitable. Infected hosts introduced to zone F do not lead to circulation of virus, since the climate is unsuitable for vectors. Zones A, B and C correspond to endemic and zones D and E to epidemic conditions.
Similar zones can be recognized for African horse sickness, bluetongue, Ibaraki disease and bovine ephemeral fever — examples of diseases transmitted in a midge-mammal cycle. In zones A and B viruses are transported by infected midges carried on the wind in association with the movement of ITCZ and undergo cycles in young animals. In these zones and in zone C there is a continual movement of midges on the warm wind between one area and another, colonizing new sites or reinforcing populations of midges already present. Virus is introduced at times into fringe areas (zones D and E) and, as there is little resistance in the host, gives rise to clinical signs of disease. In some areas there is persistence during adverse conditions; in others, the virus is carried back to the endemic zones by infected midges or vectors.
Examples of viruses maintained in a mosquito/biting fly—mammal cycle are Venezuelan equine encephalitis and vesicular stomatitis. These viruses enter a migratory cycle from a local cycle and the vectors in the migratory cycle are carried over long distances on the wind. Further examples of virus spread by movement of vectors include West Nile, Rift Valley fever, yellow fever, epizootic haemorrhagic disease of deer and Akabane viruses.
In devising means of control it is essential to decide the relationship of host, vector and virus and the nature of the zone in which the area to be controlled lies. Because of the continual risk of reintroduction of infected vectors, it is preferable to protect the host by dipping, spraying or by vaccination rather than attempting to eliminate the local population of insects.
In most bird species timing of breeding affects reproductive success whereby early breeding is favoured. In migratory species migration time, especially arrival at the breeding grounds, and breeding time are expected to be correlated. Consequently, migration time should also have fitness consequences. However, in contrast to breeding time, evidence for fitness consequences of migration time is much more limited. Climate change has been shown to negatively affect the synchrony between trophic levels thereby leading to directional selection on timing but again direct evidence in avian migration time is scarce. We here analysed fitness consequences of migration and breeding time in great cormorants and tested whether climate change has led to increased selection on timing using a long-term data set from a breeding colony on the island of Vorsø (Denmark). Reproductive success, measured as number of fledglings, correlated with breeding time and arrival time at the colony and declined during the season. This seasonal decline became steeper during the study period for both migration and breeding time and was positively correlated to winter/spring climate, i.e. selection was stronger after warmer winters/springs. However, the increasing selection pressure on timing seems to be unrelated to climate change as the climatic variables that were related to selection strength did not increase during the study period. There is indirect evidence that phenology or abundances of preferred prey species have changed which could have altered selection on timing of migration and breeding.
Nearly one in five bird species has separate breeding and overwintering distributions, and the regular migrations of these species cause a substantial seasonal redistribution of avian diversity across the world. However, despite its ecological importance, bird migration has been largely ignored in studies of global avian biodiversity, with few studies having addressed it from a macroecological perspective. Here, we analyse a dataset on the global distribution of the world’s birds in order to examine global spatial patterns in the diversity of migratory species, including: the seasonal variation in overall species diversity due to migration; the contribution of migratory birds to local bird diversity; and the distribution of narrow-range and threatened migratory birds. Our analyses reveal a striking asymmetry between the Northern and Southern hemispheres, evident in all of the patterns investigated. The highest migratory bird diversity was found in the Northern Hemisphere, with high inter-continental turnover in species composition between breeding and non-breeding seasons, and extensive regions (at high latitudes) where migratory birds constitute the majority of the local avifauna. Threatened migratory birds are concentrated mainly in Central and Southern Asia, whereas narrow-range migratory species are mainly found in Central America, the Himalayas and Patagonia. Overall, global patterns in the diversity of migratory birds indicate that bird migration is mainly a Northern Hemisphere phenomenon. The asymmetry between the Northern and Southern hemispheres could not have easily been predicted from the combined results of regional scale studies, highlighting the importance of a global perspective.
We analysed migratory connectivity between different winter quarters and breeding sectors in the circumpolar tundra region for arctic shorebirds, in relation to migratory distances and ecological barriers. Total distances and barriers were calculated and measured for all potential migratory orthodrome links between 10 selected winter regions and 12 breeding sectors. The migratory segment between the northernmost stopover site and the breeding area, associated with the entry to and exit from the tundra during spring and autumn migration, respectively, was also identified and measured for each potential link.
The analysis indicated that the evolution of migratory links among arctic shorebirds is constrained not by distance as such but by distance across ecological barriers, possibly because of the complex adaptations required for barrier crossing and extensive detour migration (and in a few cases because barrier distances exceed the birds' theoretical flight range capacity). A particularly pronounced barrier effect of the Arctic Ocean, as apparent from a sharp decline in migratory connectivity between the opposite sides of the Arctic Ocean, may reflect a crucial importance of favourable entry and exit conditions for successfully occupying different sectors of the tundra breeding area by shorebirds from winter regions situated at widely different total distances in both the southern and northern hemispheres.
biogeography of migration; migratory connectivity; migration distance; barriers to migration
Environmental conditions under which species reproduce have major consequences on breeding success and subsequent fitness. Therefore breeding habitat choice is ultimately important. Studies rarely address the potential fitness pay-offs of alternative natural breeding habitats by experimental translocation. Here we present a new tool to study fitness consequences of free living birds in different habitats. We translocated a migratory passerine, the pied flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca), to a novel site, where pairs were subjected to a short stay (2–4 days) in a nest box-equipped aviary before being released. We show that it is technically possible to retain birds in the new area for breeding, allowing the study of reproductive consequences of dispersal under natural conditions. The translocation resulted in an extension of the interval between arrival and egg laying of four days, highlighting the importance of having an adequate control group. Clutch size and nestling parameters did not differ significantly between translocated and unmanipulated females, which suggests that the procedure did not affect birds in their reproductive performance later on. This method could be applied broadly in evolutionary and ecological research, e.g., to study the potential fitness benefits and costs for dispersing to more northern latitudes as a way of adapting to climate change.
The natural reservoir of influenza A virus is waterfowl, particularly dabbling ducks (genus Anas). Although it has long been assumed that waterfowl are asymptomatic carriers of the virus, a recent study found that low-pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) infection in Bewick's swans (Cygnus columbianus bewickii) negatively affected stopover time, body mass and feeding behaviour. In the present study, we investigated whether LPAI infection incurred ecological or physiological costs to migratory mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) in terms of body mass loss and staging time, and whether such costs could influence the likelihood for long-distance dispersal of the avian influenza virus by individual ducks. During the autumn migrations of 2002–2007, we collected faecal samples (n=10 918) and biometric data from mallards captured and banded at Ottenby, a major staging site in a flyway connecting breeding and wintering areas of European waterfowl. Body mass was significantly lower in infected ducks than in uninfected ducks (mean difference almost 20 g over all groups), and the amount of virus shed by infected juveniles was negatively correlated with body mass. There was no general effect of infection on staging time, except for juveniles in September, in which birds that shed fewer viruses stayed shorter than birds that shed more viruses. LPAI infection did not affect speed or distance of subsequent migration. The data from recaptured individuals showed that the maximum duration of infection was on average 8.3 days (s.e. 0.5), with a mean minimum duration of virus shedding of only 3.1 days (s.e. 0.1). Shedding time decreased during the season, suggesting that mallards acquire transient immunity for LPAI infection. In conclusion, deteriorated body mass following infection was detected, but it remains to be seen whether this has more long-term fitness effects. The short virus shedding time suggests that individual mallards are less likely to spread the virus at continental or intercontinental scales.
influenza A virus; disease ecology; migration
The need to balance energy reserves during migration is a critical factor for most long-distance migrants and an important determinant of migratory strategies in birds, insects and land mammals. Large baleen whales migrate annually between foraging and breeding sites, crossing vast ocean areas where food is seldom abundant. How whales respond to the demands and constraints of such long migrations remains unknown. We applied a behaviour discriminating hierarchical state-space model to the satellite tracking data of 12 fin whales and 3 blue whales tagged off the Azores, to investigate their movements, behaviour (transiting and area-restricted search, ARS) and daily activity cycles during the spring migration. Fin and blue whales remained at middle latitudes for prolonged periods, spending most of their time there in ARS behaviour. While near the Azores, fin whale ARS behaviour occurred within a restricted area, with a high degree of overlap among whales. There were noticeable behavioural differences along the migratory pathway of fin whales tracked to higher latitudes: ARS occurred only in the Azores and north of 56°N, whereas in between these areas whales travelled at higher overall speeds while maintaining a nearly direct trajectory. This suggests fin whales may alternate periods of active migration with periods of extended use of specific habitats along the migratory route. ARS behaviour in blue whales occurred over a much wider area as whales slowly progressed northwards. The tracks of these whales terminated still at middle latitudes, before any behavioural switch was detected. Fin whales exhibited behavioural-specific diel rhythms in swimming speed but these varied significantly between geographic areas, possibly due to differences in the day-night cycle across areas. Finally, we show a link between fin whales seen in the Azores and those summering in eastern Greenland-western Iceland along a migratory corridor located in central Atlantic waters.
Elucidating geographic locations from where migratory birds are recruited into adult breeding populations is a fundamental but largely elusive goal in conservation biology. This is especially true for species that breed in remote northern areas where field-based demographic assessments are logistically challenging.
Here we used hydrogen isotopes (δD) to determine natal origins of migrating hatch-year lesser scaup (Aythya affinis) harvested by hunters in the United States from all North American flyways during the hunting seasons of 1999–2000 (n = 412) and 2000–2001 (n = 455). We combined geospatial, observational, and analytical data sources, including known scaup breeding range, δD values of feathers from juveniles at natal sites, models of δD for growing-season precipitation, and scaup band-recovery data to generate probabilistic natal origin landscapes for individual scaup. We then used Monte Carlo integration to model assignment uncertainty from among individual δD variance estimates from birds of known molt origin and also from band-return data summarized at the flyway level. We compared the distribution of scaup natal origin with the distribution of breeding population counts obtained from systematic long-term surveys.
Our analysis revealed that the proportion of young scaup produced in the northern (above 60°N) versus the southern boreal and Prairie-Parkland region was inversely related to the proportions of breeding adults using these regions, suggesting that despite having a higher relative abundance of breeding adults, the northern boreal region was less productive for scaup recruitment into the harvest than more southern biomes. Our approach for evaluating population declines of migratory birds (particularly game birds) synthesizes all available distributional data and exploits the advantages of intrinsic isotopic markers that link individuals to geography.