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The role of the US Great Plains low-level jet in nocturnal migrant behavior

Abstract

The movements of aerial animals are under the constant influence of atmospheric flows spanning a range of spatiotemporal scales. The Great Plains nocturnal low-level jet is a large-scale atmospheric phenomenon that provides frequent strong southerly winds through a shallow layer of the airspace. The jet can provide substantial tailwind assistance to spring migrants moving northward, while hindering southward migration during autumn. This atmospheric feature has been suspected to play a prominent role in defining migratory routes, but the flight strategies used with respect to these winds are yet to be examined. Using collocated vertically pointing radar and lidar, we investigate the altitudinal selection behavior of migrants over Oklahoma during two spring and two autumn migration seasons. In general, migrants choose to fly within the jet in spring, often concentrating in the favorable wind speed maximum. Autumn migrants typically fly below the jet, although some will rapidly climb to reach altitudes above the inhibiting winds. The intensity of migration was relatively constant throughout the spring due to the predominantly favorable southerly jet winds. Conversely, autumn migrants were more apt to delay departure to wait for the relatively infrequent northerly winds.

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Acknowledgments

The lidar and Ka-band radar data were obtained from the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Climate Research Facility, a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science user facility sponsored by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research. This work was partially supported by NSF Grant EF-1340921. The authors wish to thank Dr. Tim Bonin for providing the lidar processing algorithm. Discussions with Dr. Alan Shapiro improved the work contained herein.

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Correspondence to Charlotte E. Wainwright.

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Wainwright, C.E., Stepanian, P.M. & Horton, K.G. The role of the US Great Plains low-level jet in nocturnal migrant behavior. Int J Biometeorol 60, 1531–1542 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00484-016-1144-9

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00484-016-1144-9

Keywords

  • Aeroecology
  • Lidar
  • Low-level jet
  • Migration
  • Radar
  • Wind assistance