Individuality in northern lapwing migration and its link to timing of breeding

We tracked eight adult northern lapwings Vanellus vanellus (six females and two males) from a Dutch breeding colony by light-level geolocation year-round, three of them for multiple years. We show that birds breeding virtually next to each other may choose widely separated wintering grounds, stretching from nearby the colony west towards the UK and Ireland, and southwest through France into Iberia and Morocco. However, individual lapwings appeared relatively faithful to a chosen wintering area, and timing of outward and homeward migration can be highly consistent between years. Movements of migratory individuals were usually direct and fast, with some birds covering distances of approximately 2000 km within 2 to 4 days of travel. The two males wintered closest and returned earliest to the breeding colony. The female lapwings returned well before the onset of breeding, spending a pre-laying period of 19 to 54 days in the wider breeding area. Despite the potential for high migration speeds, the duration that birds were absent from the breeding area increased with distance to wintering areas, a pattern which was mainly driven by an earlier outward migration of birds heading for more distant wintering grounds. Moreover, females that overwintered closer to colony bred earlier. A large variation in migration strategies found even within a single breeding colony has likely supported the species’ responsiveness to recent climate change as evidenced by a shortened migration distance and an advanced timing of reproduction in Dutch lapwings since the middle of the 20th century. Migration strategies may vary between species, populations, individuals and between years within an individual. Individuals from a particular breeding population may migrate to the same wintering area or they may spread out over much of the non-breeding range. These connections between breeding and non-breeding areas of a migratory species are called ‘migratory connectivity’, and the strength of migratory connectivity has implications for the species ecology, evolution and conservation (Webster et al. 2002). Furthermore, the choice of a certain wintering area and migratory strategy may affect annual schedules including timing of events at breeding area (Marra et al. 1998), which demonstrates the importance to follow individuals throughout the annual cycle. Knowledge of variation in migratory routines within and between individuals of a population is also important to understanding and predicting the ability of species responses to environmental change, including climate change (Conklin et al. 2013). We employed GLS (Global Location Sensing, also called ‘light-level geolocation’ or just ‘geolocation’) technique based on the analysis of diurnal changes in light levels to track annual movements of northern lapwings (Vanellus vanellus; here synonymously termed ‘lapwing(s)’). Archival tags (‘geolocators’) record light intensities to determine dusk and dawn times from which geographical positions (two fixes daily) are calculated; day (night) length determines the latitude and time of local midday (midnight) the longitude (Hill ). Lapwings have been intensively ringed in many European countries for many years. Imboden (1974) undertook an extensive analysis (nicely summarized in Alerstam ) of ring recoveries collected during 1900 to 1969 from birds ringed as unfledged young and recovered within their first year of life or later. Albeit relying mainly on dead recoveries of hunted individuals, this analysis enabled the reconstruction of average seasonal movement patterns at population(s) level. It also revealed a large overlap in non-breeding locations used by lapwings originating from widely separated breeding colonies. Here, we present results from a first-time tracking study on this species by charting the year-round whereabouts of adult lapwings from a Dutch breeding colony. Some individuals were tracked for multiple years thereby providing first insights into individual consistency of migratory timing and choice of non-breeding locations. Finally, we investigate if spatial variation in non-breeding location relates to temporal variation of events at breeding area.


Publication status:
Authors: Eichhorn, Götz, Bil, Willem, Fox, James W.

1 August, 2017
Journal of Avian Biology / 48
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