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Martin Westgate

Research Fellow
Fenner School of Environment & Society
Australian National University


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Exploiting the richest patch has a fitness pay-off for the migratory swift parrot.

D Stojanovic, A Terauds, MJ Westgate, MH Webb & R Heinsohn (2014) Journal of Animal Ecology 10.1111/1365-2656.12375

Abstract

  1. Unlike philopatric migrants, the ecology of nomadic migrants is less well understood. This life‐history strategy reflects responses to spatiotemporal variation in resource availability and the need to find resource rich patches to initiate breeding. The fitness consequences of movements between regions of patchily distributed resources can provide insight into ecology of all migrants and their responses to global change.
  2. We link broad‐scale data on spatiotemporal fluctuation in food availability to data on settlement patterns and fitness outcomes for a nomadic migrant, the endangered swift parrot Lathamus discolor. We test several predictions to determine whether facultative movements are adaptive for individual swift parrots in an environment where resources are patchily distributed over time and space.
  3. Variation in the availability of swift parrot food resources across our study period was dramatic. As a consequence, swift parrots moved to breed wherever food was most abundant and did not resettle nesting regions in successive years when food availability declined. By moving, swift parrots exploited a variable food resource and reproduced successfully.
  4. Exploiting the richest patches allowed swift parrots to maintain stable fitness outcomes between discrete breeding events at different locations. Unlike sedentary species that often produce few or lower quality offspring when food is scarce, nomadic migration buffered swift parrots against extreme environmental variation.
  5. We provide the first detailed evidence that facultative movements and nomadic migration are adaptive for individuals in unpredictable environments. Our data support the widely held assumption that nomadic migration allows animals to escape resource limitation.
tags: landscape_ecology