Phenological synchronization of seasonal bird migration with vegetation greenness across dietary guilds

Authors: Frank A. La Sorte and Catherine H. Graham

Year: 2020

Publication: Journal of Animal Ecology

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Keywords: eBird, green-wave hypothesis, phenological synchronization, phenological tracking, seasonal bird migration, vegetation greenness


1. The seasonal movement of animals has been linked to seasonal variation in ecological productivity, and it has been hypothesized that primary consumers synchronize migration with vegetation phenology. Within temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, herbivorous bird species often track the phenology of vegetation greenness during spring migration. Phenological synchronization with vegetation greenness by migratory birds in other dietary guilds, across the full extent of their annual distributions during both spring and autumn migration, has not been explored.
2. Here, we document population-level associations with a remotely sensed measure of vegetation greenness for 230 North American migratory bird species in seven dietary guilds across the full annual cycle using eBird occurrence information for the combined period 2006–2018.
3. Evidence of phenological synchronization was strongest for omnivores, herbivores, herbivore–granivores and granivores during spring and autumn migration, except for omnivores in the west during spring migration. Strong evidence of synchronization was also observed for insectivores during spring migration and carnivores during spring and autumn migration that migrated across the entire breadth of the continent. The level of evidence declined for insectivores in the west and east during spring migration, and for nectarivores in the west during spring and autumn migration. Limited evidence was also found for insectivores in the east during autumn migration, insectivores in the west and the centre of the continent during spring and autumn migration, and carnivores in the west during spring migration. Carnivores in the west during autumn migration showed the weakest evidence of synchronization.
4. We found broad support across an array of dietary guilds for phenological coupling between vegetation greenness and seasonal bird migration within North America. Our results highlight the potential for many migratory bird species to encounter phenological mismatches as vegetation phenology responds to climate change. Our findings emphasize the need to better understand the environmental cues that regulate migratory behaviour across dietary guilds, consumer levels and migration tactics.

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