Migratory timing, fitness, and behaviour in a Neotropical migrant songbird: insights from long-term data and experiments

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McKellar, Ann
American redstart , phenology , density dependence , migration
Migratory birds face the distinct challenge of travelling between widely separated and environmentally distinct areas for their breeding and non-breeding periods. They may be faced with different pressures at different points in their life cycle, and a solid understanding of the drivers of individual fitness and population demography is crucial to understanding the ecological and evolutionary trajectories of their populations. In this thesis, I combine long-term data and experimental manipulations to study migratory patterns and arrival dynamics, density dependence, and reproductive behaviour in a long-distance migratory bird, the American redstart. First, I show that non-breeding season weather is associated with redstart phenology on the breeding grounds. Greater winter rainfall corresponds to earlier arrival and egg-laying dates at both the population and individual level, indicating that individual birds may be able to adjust their phenology in response to conditions in winter. Furthermore, I demonstrate these associations independently at two breeding populations at opposite sides of the redstart breeding range and their corresponding putative non-breeding areas: greater rainfall in Jamaica and Mexico was associated with advanced redstart phenology in Ontario and Alberta, respectively. Second, I performed a manipulation experiment to delay the arrival of male redstarts to the breeding grounds. I show that delayed males suffer reduced fledging success in comparison to early-arriving males that bred early or late, but equivalent success in comparison to males that arrived and bred late. These results provide evidence against the importance of either timing or individual quality, but instead suggest that other aspects of quality, namely mate and territory quality, may be important factors driving the success of early-arriving males. Third, I examine the consequences of density dependence for reproductive success and mating behaviour in a population of redstarts for which I showed density-dependent population growth over a period of 11 years. Greater breeding density, both at an annual scale and at a local scale, was associated with reduced success and greater paternity loss. Overall, my findings contribute to a broader understanding of the selective pressures and regulatory mechanisms acting on migratory birds, from the individual up to the population level.
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