Migratory swans individually adjust their autumn migration and winter range to a warming climate

Hans Linssen* (Corresponding author), E. Emiel van Loon, Judy Z. Shamoun‐Baranes, Rascha J. M. Nuijten, Bart A. Nolet

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


In response to climate warming, migratory animals can alter their migration so that different events in the annual cycle are better aligned in space and time with suitable environmental conditions. Although such responses have been studied extensively during spring migration and the breeding season, much less is known about the influence of temperature on movements throughout autumn migration and how those movements result in a winter range and shifts therein. We use multi-year GPS tracking data to quantify how daily autumn movement and annual winter distance from the breeding grounds are related to temperature in the Western Palearctic Bewick's swan, a long-lived migratory waterbird whose winter range has shifted more than 350 km closer to the breeding grounds since 1970 due to individuals increasingly ‘short-stopping’ their autumn migration. We show that the migratory movement of swans is driven by lower temperatures throughout the autumn season, with individuals during late autumn moving only substantially when temperatures drop below freezing. As a result, there is large flexibility in their annual winter distance as a response to winter temperature. On average, individuals overwinter 118 km closer to the breeding grounds per 1°C increase in mean December–January temperature. Given the observed temperature increase in the Bewick's swan winter range during the last decades, our results imply that the observed range shift is for a substantial part driven by individual responses to a warming climate. We thus present an example of individual flexibility towards climatic conditions driving the range shift of a migratory species. Our study adds to the understanding of the processes that shape autumn migration decisions, winter ranges and shifts therein, which is crucial to be able to predict how climate change may impact these processes in the future.
Original languageUndefined
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Early online date05 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • climate change
  • frost wave
  • individual flexibility
  • migration ontogeny
  • range shift
  • species distribution
  • stopover
  • waterbird

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