Repeat tracking of individual songbirds reveals consistent migration timing but flexibility in route

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Abstract

Tracking repeat migratory journeys of individual animals is required to assess phenotypic plasticity of individual migration behaviour in space and time. We used light-level geolocators to track the long-distance journeys of migratory songbirds (wood thrush, Hylocichla mustelina), and, for the first time, repeat journeys of individuals. We compare between- and within-individual variation in migration to examine flexibility of timing and route in spring and autumn. Date of departure from wintering sites in Central America, along with sex and age factors, explained most of the variation (71%) in arrival date at North American breeding sites. Spring migration showed high within-individual repeatability in timing, but not in route. In particular, spring departure dates of individuals were highly repeatable, with a mean difference between years of just 3 days. Autumn migration timing and routes were not repeatable. Our results provide novel evidence of low phenotypic plasticity in timing of spring migration, which may limit the ability of individuals to adjust migration schedules in response to climate change.

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Stanley, C. Q., MacPherson, M., Fraser, K. C., McKinnon, E. A., & Stutchbury, B. J. M. (2012). Repeat tracking of individual songbirds reveals consistent migration timing but flexibility in route. PLoS ONE, 7(7). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0040688

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