A generalizable energetics-based model of avian migration to facilitate continental-scale waterbird conservation

Eric V. Lonsdorf, Wayne E. Thogmartin, Sarah Jacobi, Kevin Aagaard, Jorge Coppen, Amélie Y. Davis, Timothy Fox, Patricia Heglund, Rex Johnson, Malcolm T(Tim) Jones, Kevin Kenow, James E. Lyons, Kirsten Luke, Shannon Still, Brian Tavernia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Conserving migratory birds is made especially difficult because of movement among spatially disparate locations across the annual cycle. In light of challenges presented by the scale and ecology of migratory birds, successful conservation requires integrating objectives, management, and monitoring across scales, from local management units to ecoregional administrative boundaries to flyways. We present an integrated approach using a spatially explicit energetic-based mechanistic bird migration model useful to conservation decision-making across disparate scales and locations. This model moves a mallard-like bird (Anas platyrhynchos), through spring and fall migration as a function of caloric gains and losses across a continental-scale energy landscape. We predicted with this model that fall migration, where birds moved from breeding to wintering habitat, took a mean of 27.5 days of flight with a mean seasonal survivorship of 90.5% (95% CI = 89.2%, 91.9%) whereas spring migration took a mean of 23.5 days of flight with mean seasonal survivorship of 93.6% (95% CI = 92.5%, 94.7%). Sensitivity analyses suggested that survival during migration was sensitive to flight speed, flight cost, the amount of energy the animal could carry and the spatial pattern of energy availability, but generally insensitive to total energy availability per se. Nevertheless, continental patterns in the bird-use days occurred principally in relation to wetland cover and agricultural habitat in the fall. Bird-use days were highest in both spring and fall in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley and along the coast and near-shore environments of South Carolina. Spatial sensitivity analyses suggested that locations nearer to migratory endpoints were less important to survivorship; for instance, removing energy from a 1,036 km2 "node" at a time from the Atlantic Flyway suggested coastal areas between New Jersey and North Carolina, including Chesapeake Bay and the North Carolina piedmont, are essential locations for efficient migration and increasing survivorship during spring migration but not locations in Ontario and Massachusetts. This sort of spatially explicit information may allow decision-makers to prioritize their conservation actions toward locations most influential to migratory success. Thus, this mechanistic model of avian migration provides a decision-analytic medium integrating the potential consequences of local actions to flyway-scale phenomena.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalEcological Applications
StatePublished - 2015


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