The strength of migratory connectivity for birds en route to breeding through the Gulf of Mexico
The strength of migratory connectivity is a measure of the cohesion of populations among phases of the annual cycle, including breeding, migration, and wintering. Many Nearctic‐Neotropical species have strong migratory connectivity between breeding and wintering phases of the annual cycle. It is less clear if this strength persists during migration when multiple endogenous and exogenous factors may decrease the cohesion of populations among routes or through time along the same routes. We sampled three bird species, American redstart Setophaga ruticilla, ovenbird Seiurus aurocapilla, and wood thrush Hylocichla mustelina, during spring migration through the Gulf of Mexico region to test if breeding populations differentiate spatially among migration routes or temporally along the same migration routes and the extent to which within‐population timing is a function of sex, age, and carry‐over from winter habitat, as measured by stable carbon isotope values in claws (δ13C). To make quantitative comparisons of migratory connectivity possible, we developed and used new methodology to estimate the strength of migratory connectivity (MC) from probabilistic origin assignments identified using stable hydrogen isotopes in feathers (δ2H). We found support for spatial differentiation among routes by American redstarts and ovenbirds and temporal differentiation along routes by American redstarts. After controlling for breeding origin, the timing of American redstart migration differed among ages and sexes and ovenbird migration timing was influenced by carry‐over from winter habitat. The strength of migratory connectivity did not differ among the three species, with each showing weak breeding‐to‐spring migration MC relative to prior assessments of breeding‐wintering connectivity. Our work begins to fill an essential gap in methodology and understanding of the extent to which populations remain together during migration, information critical for a full annual cycle perspective on the population dynamics and conservation of migratory animals.
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