Flexible reaction norms to environmental variables along the migration route and the significance of stopover duration for total speed of migration in a songbird migrant


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simeon.lisovski [ at ] awi.de

Abstract

Background Predicting the consequences of continuing anthropogenic changes in the environment for migratory behaviours such as phenology remains a major challenge. Predictions remain particularly difficult, because our knowledge is based on studies from single-snapshot observations at specific stopover sites along birds’ migration routes. However, a general understanding on how birds react to prevailing environmental conditions, e.g. their ‘phenotypic reaction norm’, throughout the annual cycle and along their entire migration routes is required to fully understand how migratory birds respond to rapid environmental change. Results Here, we provide direct evidence that northern wheatears (Oenanthe oenanthe) from a breeding population in Alaska adjusted their probability to resume migration as well as the distance covered per night, i.e. travel speed, to large-scale environmental conditions experienced along their 15,000 km migratory route on both northwards and southwards migrations. These adjustments were found to be flexible in space and time. At the beginning of autumn migration, northern wheatears showed high departure probabilities and high travel speeds at low surface air temperatures, while far away from Alaska both traits decreased with increasing air temperatures. In spring, northern wheatears increasingly exploited flow assistance with season, which is likely a behavioural adjustment to speed up migration by increasing the distance travelled per night. Furthermore, the variation in total stopover duration but not in travel speed had a significant effect on the total speed of migration, indicating the prime importance of total stopover duration in the overall phenology of bird migration. Conclusion Northern wheatears from Alaska provide evidence that the phenotypic reaction norm to a set of environmental conditions cannot be generalized to universal and persistent behavioural reaction pattern across entire migratory pathways. This highlights the importance of full annual-cycle studies on migratory birds to better understand their response to the environment. Understanding the mechanisms behind phenotypic plasticity during migration is particularly important in the assessment of whether birds can keep pace with the potentially increasing phenological mismatches observed on the breeding grounds.



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ISI/Scopus peer-reviewed
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Published
Eprint ID
52150
DOI 10.1186/s12983-017-0203-3

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Schmaljohann, H. , Lisovski, S. and Bairlein, F. (2017): Flexible reaction norms to environmental variables along the migration route and the significance of stopover duration for total speed of migration in a songbird migrant , Frontiers in Zoology, 14 (1) . doi: 10.1186/s12983-017-0203-3


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