Consistency in long-distance bird migration: contrasting patterns in time and space for two raptors

Yannis Vardanis, Jan-Ake Nilsson, Raymond H. G. Klaassen, Roine Strandberg, Thomas Alerstam

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As the evolutionary responses to environmental change depend on selection acting on individual differences, disentangling within- and between-individual variation becomes imperative. In animal migration research, multiyear tracks are thus needed to estimate the individual consistency of phenotypic traits. Avian telemetry studies have recently provided the first evidence of individuality across space and time in animal migration. Here, we compare repeatability patterns of routes and timing between two migratory birds, the marsh harrier, Circus aeruginosus, and the osprey, Pandion haliaetus, as recorded by satellite tracking. We found interspecific contrasts with low repeatability in timing and duration and a high repeatability in routes for ospreys, but the reverse pattern for marsh harriers. This was mainly caused by (1) larger between-individual variation in routes for ospreys (broad-front migration) than for marsh harriers (corridor migration) and a higher degree of repeated use of the same stopover sites among ospreys, and (2) higher within-individual consistency of timing and duration among marsh harriers, while individual ospreys were more flexible. Our findings suggest that individuality in space and time is not a shared trait complex among migrants, but may show adaptive variation depending on the species' life history and ecology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)177-187
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2016


  • bird migration
  • consistency
  • individual variation
  • marsh harrier
  • osprey
  • satellite telemetry
  • international

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