Plasticity versus repeatability in seabird migratory behaviour
Pelagic seabird populations can use several discrete wintering areas, but it is unknown if individuals use the same wintering area year after year. This would have consequences for their population genetic structure and conservation. We here study the faithfulness of individuals to a moulting area within and among years in a small pelagic seabird, ... the Thin-billed prion, which moult their primary feathers during the early part of the non-breeding period. According to stable carbon isotope ratios (delta(13)C) of these feathers, 90% of Thin-billed prions moult in Antarctic and 10% in South American waters. Repeated samples from individuals in 2 or 3 years indicated that several birds changed between Antarctic and South American moulting areas or vice versa. However, individuals moulting in an area in one year were more likely to do so again. Four out of five adults maintained highly conserved delta(13)C over the extended moulting period. One bird, however, had systematic changes in delta(13)C indicating latitudinal movements between the two areas during moult. Thus, the present data show that this seabird species has a highly flexible migratory strategy, not only at the population level, but also at the individual level, enabling these seabirds to exploit a highly unpredictable environment.
Original publication in
Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 64 (2010), 1157-1164