Yellow-throated Warbler by Michelle Davis

We wish to understand the causes, patterns, mechanisms, and consequences of migration, with particular attention focused on the movement biology of migratory birds when they stopover during passage. Several related aspects of their en route ecology currently receive attention:

Transmission of Infectious Diseases

What role do migratory birds play as dispersal agents for infectious diseases? How do parasites and pathogens affect the biology of migratory birds when they stopover to rest and refuel?

Habitat suitability and stopover ecology

What is the relationship between intrinsic (within-habitat) and extrinsic (between-habitat) determinants of habitat use during migration? How do migrants select among alternative habitat types? What constrains choice? What cues are used? What are the functional consequences of differential use of en route habitat?

Information acquisition and use during stopover

A migrant’s fitness is dependent upon the timely and safe acquisition of resources at unfamiliar stopover sites. This poses an interesting and largely overlooked problem: How do migrants acquire information to reduce risks and uncertainties associated with unfamiliar stopover sites? What is adequate information under the simultaneous constraints of time minimization and energy requirements?

Analysis of migratory stopover at different spatial scales

Migration is driven by processes that act across multiple spatial and temporal scales. We are developing spatially explicit models to stimulate how patterns of habitat availability (e.g., patch size, shape, distribution) affect migratory birds at the individual and population level of analysis, and we are building individual based models to understand the migrant-habitat relationship during stopover.

Connectivity and transition between phases of the annual cycle

How do events during migration affect the occupation of breeding/wintering habitat following migration? What are the consequences of en route events for survival during the "winter" and for reproductive performance during the breeding season? We are integrating information from intrinsic and extrinsic markers to geographically link individuals captured during spring stopover with their breeding destination in North America. In doing so, we can assess how far migrants must travel from the stopover site to their breeding area and whether migrants are early or late relative to other birds traveling to the same breeding region. Stronger inferences can be drawn about stopover behavior and departure decisions (i.e., migration strategies) by adding the quantitative measure of relative timing of migration and distance to destination area.

Age- and sex-specific stopover biology

Individuals with different levels of migratory experience can be expected to respond differently to the challenges of migration -- differences that may affect survival and reproductive success. Likewise, we have every reason to believe that males and females may adopt different migration strategies.

Migratory orientation

Although interested in how migratory birds integrate sensory information to determine their migratory direction, we recognize that orientation decisions are made in an ecological context by migrants that vary in their nutritional condition. For example, what factors, both endogenous and exogenous, influence the decision to embark on a long-distance, non-stop flight over the Gulf of Mexico?

Conservation, migratory birds, and anthropogenic impacts

Consider anthropogenic habitat fragmentation, climate change, introduction of exotic species – impacts that highlight causal links in both directions between movement of migratory birds and environmental change. We are drawing from diverse fields, including the social sciences, economics, science education, and communication, to understand the interactions between natural systems and human influences and to serve as a foundation upon which to develop effective and innovative strategies for environmental problem solving and conservation.

The University of Southern Mississippi. Last modified: 26 May, 2009 . Questions and Comments?