Absolute Consistency: Individual versus Population Variation in Annual-Cycle Schedules of a Long-Distance Migrant Bird

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Flexibility in scheduling varies throughout an organism's annual cycle, reflecting relative temporal constraints and fitness consequences among life-history stages. Time-selection can act at different scales, either by limiting the range of alternative strategies in the population, or by increasing the precision of individual performance. We tracked individual bar-tailed godwits Limosa lapponica baueri for two full years (including direct observation during non-breeding seasons in New Zealand and geolocator tracking of round-trip migrations to Alaska) to present a full annual-cycle view of molt, breeding, and migration schedules. At both population and individual scales, temporal variation was greater in post-breeding than pre-breeding stages, and greater in molts than in movements, but schedules did not tighten across successive stages of migration toward the breeding grounds. In general, individual godwits were quite consistent in timing of events throughout the year, and repeatability of pre-breeding movements was particularly high (r = 0.82-0.92). However, we demonstrate that r values misrepresent absolute consistency by confounding inter- and intra-individual variation; the biological significance of r values can only be understood when these are considered separately. By doing so, we show that some stages have considerable tolerance for alternative strategies within the population, whereas scheduling of northbound migratory movements was similar for all individuals. How time-selection simultaneously shapes both individual and population variation is central to understanding and predicting adaptive phenological responses to environmental change. © 2013 Conklin et al.




Conklin, J. R., Battley, P. F., & Potter, M. A. (2013). Absolute Consistency: Individual versus Population Variation in Annual-Cycle Schedules of a Long-Distance Migrant Bird. PLoS ONE, 8(1). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0054535

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