MEPS 578:197-211 (2017)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12010

Flexibility in otherwise consistent non-breeding movements of a long-distance migratory seabird, the long-tailed skua

Rob van Bemmelen1,2,*, Børge Moe3, Sveinn Are Hanssen4, Niels Martin Schmidt5,6, Jannik Hansen5, Johannes Lang7,8, Benoît Sittler7,9, Loïc Bollache7,10,11, Ingrid Tulp1, Raymond Klaassen12, Olivier Gilg7,13 

1Wageningen Marine Research, 1970 AB, IJmuiden, The Netherlands
2Resource Ecology Group, Wageningen University & Research, 6708 PB, Wageningen, The Netherlands
3Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, 7034 Trondheim, Norway
4Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, FRAM - High North Research Centre for Climate and the Environment, 9007 Tromsø, Norway
5Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, 4000 Roskilde, Denmark
6Arctic Research Centre, Aarhus University, 8000 Aarhus C, Denmark
7Groupe de Recherche en Ecologie Arctique, 21440 Francheville, France
8Working Group for Wildlife Biology, Justus Liebig University Giessen, 35392 Giessen, Germany
9Chair for Nature Protection and Landscape Ecology, University of Freiburg, 79106 Freiburg, Germany
10Laboratoire Chrono-environnement, 25000 Besançon, France
11Université de Bourgogne France Comté, 21000 Dijon Cedex, France
12Dutch Montagu’s Harrier Foundation and Conservation Ecology Group, Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences (GELIFES), University of Groningen, 9700 CC, Groningen, The Netherlands
13Laboratoire Biogéosciences, UMR CNRS 6282, Université de Bourgogne, Dijon, France
*Corresponding author:
Advance View was available online February 15, 2017

ABSTRACT: Quantifying within- and between-individual variation in animal migration strategies is a first step towards our understanding of the ability of migrants to adjust to changes in the environment. We studied consistency (or, conversely, flexibility) in movement patterns at large (>1000 km) to meso-scales (100-1000 km) during the non-breeding season of the long-tailed skua Stercorarius longicaudus, a long-distance migratory Arctic seabird, using light-based geolocation. We obtained 97 annual tracks of 38 individuals and quantified similarity between routes. Overall, tracks of the same individual were generally within about 200 to 300 km of their previous year’s route, and more similar than tracks of different individuals. Some flexibility was observed during migration, but individuals were faithful to their staging areas in the North Atlantic and in the Benguela Current off Namibia and South Africa. Over the course of the winter, an increasing number of individuals started to deviate—up to 5200 km—from the previous year’s route. Intriguingly, individuals could be highly consistent between 2 consecutive years and flexible between other years. Site-shifts in late winter seem to reflect responses to local conditions, but what promotes this larger flexibility remains unclear and requires further study. Our results show that individual long-tailed skuas are generally consistent in their itineraries, but can show considerable flexibility in some years. The flexibility in itineraries suggests that long-tailed skuas are able to adjust to environmental change, but the mechanisms leading to the observed within- and between-individual variation in movement patterns are still poorly understood.


KEY WORDS: Individual consistency · Repeatability · Stercorarius longicaudus · Seabirds · Tracking · Non-breeding movements · Flexibility


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Cite this article as: van Bemmelen R, Moe B, Hanssen SA, Schmidt NM and others (2017) Flexibility in otherwise consistent non-breeding movements of a long-distance migratory seabird, the long-tailed skua. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 578:197-211. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12010

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