Dramatic intraspecific differences in migratory routes, stopover sites and wintering areas, revealed using light-level geolocators

Kira E. Delmore, James W. Fox, Darren E. Irwin

Abstract

Migratory divides are contact zones between breeding populations that use divergent migratory routes and have been described in a variety of species. These divides are of major importance to evolution, ecology and conservation but have been identified using limited band recovery data and/or indirect methods. Data from band recoveries and mitochondrial haplotypes suggested that inland and coastal Swainson's thrushes (Catharus ustulatus) form a migratory divide in western North America. We attached light-level geolocators to birds at the edges of this contact zone to provide, to our knowledge, the first direct test of a putative divide using data from individual birds over the entire annual cycle. Coastal thrushes migrated along the west coast to Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. Some of these birds used multiple wintering sites. Inland thrushes migrated across the Rocky Mountains, through central North America to Columbia and Venezuela. These birds migrated longer distances than coastal birds and performed a loop migration, navigating over the Gulf of Mexico in autumn and around this barrier in spring. These findings support the suggestion that divergent migratory behaviour could contribute to reproductive isolation between migrants, advance our understanding of their non-breeding ecology, and are integral to development of detailed conservation strategies for this group.

  • Received May 28, 2012.
  • Accepted September 3, 2012.
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