Strong migratory connectivity indicates Willets need subspecies-specific conservation strategies

Authors: Allison E. Huysman, Nathan W. Cooper, Joseph A. Smith, Susan M. Haig, Susan A. Heath, Luanne Johnson, Elizabeth Olson, Kevin Regan, Jennifer K. Wilson, and Peter P. Marra

Year: 2022

Publication: Ornithological Applications

Publication Link:

Keywords: annual cycle, conservation, migration, migratory connectivity, shorebirds, subspecies, Tringa semipalmata, Willet

Abstract: By combining all available banding and tracking data, we found that Willets (Tringa semipalmata) have a strong migratory
connectivity between breeding and nonbreeding locations at the range-wide and subspecies levels, exposing
two subspecies to varying threats such as hunting for the eastern subspecies (Tringa semipalmata semipalmata)
and climatically-altered coastal habitats for both subspecies. We found that western Willets (Tringa semipalmata
inornata) primarily used nonbreeding habitats along the Pacific Coast of the United States, although their reported
nonbreeding range extends to the US Atlantic and Gulf Coasts and the Pacific Coast of Central and South America.
Eastern Willets wintered in Central and South America, which covers much of the subspecies’ known nonbreeding
range. By quantifying migratory connectivity within and between two subspecies, we could suggest subspeciesspecific
threats and potential limiting factors in the breeding and nonbreeding periods of the annual cycle of a
declining migratory shorebird. Effective management of the species will likely require a range of conservation strategies
across the diverse nonbreeding regions the two subspecies occupy within the United States, Central America,
and South America. However, more data are needed from Willets breeding in mid-continental North America to
understand the complete extent of overlap of the two subspecies throughout the annual cycle. The strong migratory
connectivity documented here highlights the need to manage Willets by subspecies and protect a diversity of
breeding and nonbreeding habitats, which will benefit the conservation of other shorebird species that overlap with
Willets throughout the annual cycle.

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