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Time versus energy minimization migration strategy varies with body size and season in long-distance migratory shorebirds

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posted on 07.11.2017, 00:00 authored by Meijuan Zhao, M Christie, J Coleman, C Hassell, K Gosbell, Simeon LisovskiSimeon Lisovski, C Minton, Marcel KlaassenMarcel Klaassen
Background: Migrants have been hypothesised to use different migration strategies between seasons: a time-minimization strategy during their pre-breeding migration towards the breeding grounds and an energy-minimization strategy during their post-breeding migration towards the wintering grounds. Besides season, we propose body size as a key factor in shaping migratory behaviour. Specifically, given that body size is expected to correlate negatively with maximum migration speed and that large birds tend to use more time to complete their annual life-history events (such as moult, breeding and migration), we hypothesise that large-sized species are time stressed all year round. Consequently, large birds are not only likely to adopt a time-minimization strategy during pre-breeding migration, but also during post-breeding migration, to guarantee a timely arrival at both the non-breeding (i.e. wintering) and breeding grounds. Methods: We tested this idea using individual tracks across six long-distance migratory shorebird species (family Scolopacidae) along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway varying in size from 50 g to 750 g lean body mass. Migration performance was compared between pre- and post-breeding migration using four quantifiable migratory behaviours that serve to distinguish between a time- and energy-minimization strategy, including migration speed, number of staging sites, total migration distance and step length from one site to the next. Results: During pre- and post-breeding migration, the shorebirds generally covered similar distances, but they tended to migrate faster, used fewer staging sites, and tended to use longer step lengths during pre-breeding migration. These seasonal differences are consistent with the prediction that a time-minimization strategy is used during pre-breeding migration, whereas an energy-minimization strategy is used during post-breeding migration. However, there was also a tendency for the seasonal difference in migration speed to progressively disappear with an increase in body size, supporting our hypothesis that larger species tend to use time-minimization strategies during both pre- and post-breeding migration. Conclusions: Our study highlights that body size plays an important role in shaping migratory behaviour. Larger migratory bird species are potentially time constrained during not only the pre- but also the post-breeding migration. Conservation of their habitats during both seasons may thus be crucial for averting further population declines.



Movement ecology



Article number



1 - 12


BioMed Central


London, Eng.





Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal; C Journal article

Copyright notice

2017, The Authors