, Volume 172, Issue 2, pp 595-605
Date: 17 Nov 2012

Winter rainfall predicts phenology in widely separated populations of a migrant songbird

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Abstract

Climate change is affecting behaviour and phenology in many animals. In migratory birds, weather patterns both at breeding and at non-breeding sites can influence the timing of spring migration and breeding. However, variation in responses to weather across a species range has rarely been studied, particularly among populations that may winter in different locations. We used prior knowledge of migratory connectivity to test the influence of weather from predicted non-breeding sites on bird phenology in two breeding populations of a long-distance migratory bird species separated by 3,000 km. We found that winter rainfall showed similar associations with arrival and egg-laying dates in separate breeding populations on an east–west axis: greater rainfall in Jamaica and eastern Mexico was generally associated with advanced American redstart (Setophaga ruticilla) phenology in Ontario and Alberta, respectively. In Ontario, these patterns of response could largely be explained by changes in the behaviour of individual birds, i.e., phenotypic plasticity. By explicitly incorporating migratory connectivity into responses to climate, our data suggest that widely separated breeding populations can show independent and geographically specific associations with changing weather conditions. The tendency of individuals to delay migration and breeding following dry winters could result in population declines due to predicted drying trends in tropical areas and the tight linkage between early arrival/breeding and reproductive success in long-distance migrants.

Communicated by Ola Olsson.