, Volume 57, Issue 1, pp 1-8
Date: 03 Sep 2004

Individual variation in timing of migration: causes and reproductive consequences in greater snow geese (Anser caerulescens atlanticus)

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Decisions made by birds during migration to breeding grounds can strongly affect the fitness of individuals. We investigated possible causes and reproductive consequences of inter-individual variation in the migratory behavior of an arctic-nesting species, the greater snow goose (Anser caerulescens atlanticus), by radio-tracking females at their staging area and on their breeding grounds. Females showed relatively high repeatability in the duration of migration (ri=0.37) and arrival date on the breeding grounds (ri=0.42) suggesting that these traits are characteristics of individuals. Conversely, no individual consistency in departure date from the staging area was detected (ri=−0.02) indicating that environmental factors may have a large influence. Females paired with dominant males departed slightly earlier from the staging area than females accompanied by subordinate males. However, neither social status on the staging area (i.e. paired vs unpaired) nor dominance scores were associated with arrival time of individuals. Finally, the probability of breeding was positively related to arrival date indicating a reproductive cost of arriving too early on the breeding grounds. The combination of breeding probability and seasonal decline in breeding success nonetheless suggests that females arriving a few days earlier than the median arrival date attained highest reproductive success. Our results show that assessing the fitness consequences of early arrival by focusing solely on breeding females would lead to an overestimation of the genuine benefits. This study also indicates possible genetically based differences among individuals in migration duration and arrival time on the breeding grounds.

Communicated by W. Wiltschko