Ecological factors associated with the breeding and migratory phenology of high-latitude breeding western sandpipers
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Environmental conditions influence the breeding and migratory patterns of many avian species and may have particularly dramatic effects on long-distance migrants that breed at northern latitudes. Environment, however, is only one of the ecological variables affecting avian phenology, and recent work shows that migration tactics may be strongly affected by changes in predator populations. We used long-term data from 1978 to 2000 to examine the interactions between snowmelt in western Alaska in relation to the breeding or migration phenologies of small shorebirds and their raptor predators. Although the sandpipers’ time of arrival at Alaskan breeding sites corresponded with mean snowmelt, late snowmelts did delay breeding. These delays, however, did not persist to southward migration through British Columbia, likely due to the birds’ ability to compensate for variance in the length of the breeding season. Raptor phenology at an early stopover site in British Columbia was strongly related to snowmelt, so that in years of early snowmelt falcons appeared earlier during the sandpipers’ southbound migration. These differential effects indicate that earlier snowmelt due to climate change may alter the ecological dynamics of the predator–prey system.