Integrating Causal and Evolutionary Analysis of Life-History Evolution: Arrival Date in a Long-Distant Migrant

Barbara M. Tomotani* (Corresponding author), Phillip Gienapp, Iván de la Hera, Martijn Terpstra, Francisco Pulido, Marcel E. Visser

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
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In migratory species, the timing of arrival at the breeding grounds is a life-history trait with major fitness consequences. The optimal arrival date varies from year-to-year, and animals use cues to adjust their arrival dates to match this annual variation. However, which cues they use to time their arrival and whether these cues actually predict the annual optimal arrival date is largely unknown. Here, we integrate causal and evolutionary analysis by identifying the environmental variables used by a migratory songbird to time its arrival dates and testing whether these environmental variables also predicted the optimal time to arrive. We used 11 years of male arrival data of a pied flycatcher population. Specifically, we tested whether temperature and normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) values from their breeding grounds in the Netherlands and from their wintering grounds in Ivory Coast explained the variation in arrival date, and whether these variables correlated with the position of the annual fitness peak at the breeding grounds. We found that temperature and NDVI, both from the wintering and the breeding grounds, explained the annual variation in arrival date, but did not correlate with the optimal arrival date. We explore three alternative explanations for this lack of correlation. Firstly, the date of the fitness peak may have been incorrectly estimated because a potentially important component of fitness (i.e., migration date dependent mortality en route or directly upon arrival) could not be measured. Secondly, we focused on male timing but the fitness landscape is also likely to be shaped by female timing. Finally, the correlation has recently disappeared because climate change disrupted the predictive value of the cues that the birds use to time their migration. In the latter case, birds may adapt by altering their sensitivity to temperature and NDVI.

Original languageEnglish
Article number630823
JournalFrontiers in Ecology and Evolution
Publication statusPublished - 22 Feb 2021


  • Africa
  • climate change
  • cues
  • European pied flycatcher
  • Ficedula hypoleuca
  • long-distance migration
  • mortality
  • NIOO
  • Plan_S-Compliant_OA


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