Seasonal variation in migration strategies used to cross ecological barriers in a Nearctic migrant wintering in Africa

Léandri-Breton, Don-Jean; Lamarre, Jean-François; Bety, J.

1 April 2019

Ecological barriers such as oceans, mountain ranges or glaciers can have a substantial influence on the evolution of animal migration. Along the migration flyway connecting breeding sites in the North American Arctic and wintering grounds in Europe or Africa, Nearctic species are confronted with significant barriers such as the Atlantic Ocean and the Greenland icecap. Using geolocation devices, we identified wintering areas used by Ringed Plovers nesting in the Canadian High-Arctic and investigated migration strategies used by these Nearctic migrants along the transatlantic route. The main wintering area of the Ringed Plovers (n = 20) was located in Western Africa. We found contrasting seasonal migration patterns, with Ringed Plovers minimizing continuous flight distances over the ocean in spring by making a detour to stop in Iceland. In autumn, however, most individuals crossed the ocean in one direct flight from Southern Greenland to Western Europe, as far as Southern Spain. This likely resulted from prevailing anti-clockwise winds associated with the Icelandic low-pressure system. Moreover, the plovers we tracked largely circumvented the Greenland icecap in autumn, but in spring, some plovers apparently crossed the icecap above the 65°N. Our study highlighted the importance of Iceland as a stepping-stone during the spring migration and showed that small Nearctic migrants can perform non-stop transatlantic flights from Greenland to Southern Europe.

Doi
10.1111/jav.02101