Resource tracking within and across continents in long-distance bird migrants

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Migratory birds track seasonal resources across and between continents. We propose a general strategy of tracking the broad seasonal abundance of resources throughout the annual cycle in the longest-distance migrating land birds as an alternative to tracking a certain climatic niche or shorter-term resource surplus occurring, for example, during spring foliation. Whether and how this is possible for complex annual spatiotemporal schedules is not known. New tracking technology enables unprecedented spatial and temporal mapping of long-distance movement of birds. We show that three Palearctic-African species track vegetation greenness throughout their annual cycle, adjusting the timing and direction of migratory movements with seasonal changes in resource availability over Europe and Africa. Common cuckoos maximize the vegetation greenness, whereas red-backed shrikes and thrush nightingales track seasonal surplus in greenness. Our results demonstrate that the longest-distance migrants move between consecutive staging areas even within the wintering region in Africa to match seasonal variation in regional climate. End-of-century climate projections indicate that optimizing greenness would be possible but that vegetation surplus might be more difficult to track in the future.


External organisations
  • University of Copenhagen
  • Dutch Montagu's Harrier Foundation
  • University of Groningen
  • University of Évora
  • King Abdullah University of Science and Technology
  • Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales
  • Max-Planck Institute for Ornithology
  • University of Konstanz
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Ecology


  • Journal Article
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1601360
Number of pages11
JournalScience Advances
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Jan
Publication categoryResearch