Estimating Migratory Connectivity

April 8, 2014 by Emily Cohen

Caspian Tern

Understanding the biology and conducting effective conservation of migratory species requires an understanding of migratory connectivity—the geographic linkages of populations between stages of the annual cycle. Unfortunately, for most species, we are lacking such information.

The North American Bird Banding Laboratory (BBL) houses an extensive database of marking, recaptures and recoveries, and such data could provide migratory connectivity information for many species. To date, however, few species have been analyzed for migratory connectivity largely because heterogeneous re-encounter probabilities make interpretation problematic.

We accounted for regional variation in re-encounter probabilities by borrowing information across species and by using effort covariates on recapture and recovery probabilities in a multistate capture–recapture and recovery model. The effort covariates were derived from recaptures and recoveries of species within the same regions.

We estimated the migratory connectivity for 3 tern species breeding in North America and over-wintering in the tropics, common (Sterna hirundo), roseate (Sterna dougallii), and Caspian terns (Hydroprogne caspia).

Maps showing connectivity of breeding and wintering locations for 3 terns. From left to right: common, roseate, Caspian.

For western breeding terns, model-derived estimates of migratory connectivity differed considerably from those derived directly from the proportions of re-encounters. Conversely, for eastern breeding terns, estimates were merely refined by the inclusion of re-encounter probabilities.

In general, eastern breeding terns were strongly connected to eastern South America, and western breeding terns were strongly linked to the more western parts of the nonbreeding range under both models.

Through simulation, we found this approach is likely useful for many species in the BBL database, although precision improved with higher re-encounter probabilities and stronger migratory connectivity.

We describe an approach to deal with the inherent biases in BBL banding and re-encounter data to demonstrate that this large dataset is a valuable source of information about the migratory connectivity of the birds of North America.

This article summarizes the information in this scientific paper:

Cohen, E. B., Hostetler, J. A., Royle, J. A. and Marra, P. P. (2014), Estimating migratory connectivity of birds when re-encounter probabilities are heterogeneous. Ecology and Evolution. doi: 10.1002/ece3.1059

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