An age-dependent fitness cost of migration?: Old trans-Saharan migrating spoonbills breed later than those staying in Europe, and late breeders have lower recruitment

Lok, T., Veldhoen, L., Overdijk, O., Tinbergen, J. M. & Piersma, T. 3-Jul-2017 In : Journal of Animal Ecology. 86, 5, p. 998-1009

Research output: Scientific - peer-reviewArticle

Migration is a widespread phenomenon in the animal kingdom. On the basis of the considerable variation that exists between and within species, and even within populations, we may be able to infer the (age- and sex-specific) ecological trade-offs and constraints moulding migration systems from assessments of fitness associated with migration and wintering in different areas. During three consecutive breeding seasons, we compared the reproductive performance (timing of breeding, breeding success, chick body condition and post-fledging survival) of Eurasian spoonbills Platalea leucorodia that breed at a single breeding site in The Netherlands, but migrate different distances (ca. 4,500 km versus 2,000 km, either or not crossing the Sahara) to and from wintering areas in southern Europe and West Africa. Using mark-recapture analysis, we further investigated whether survival until adulthood (recruitment probability) of chicks hatched between 2006 and 2010 was related to their hatch date and body condition. Long-distance migrants bred later, particularly the males, and raised chicks of poorer body condition than short-distance migrants. Hatch dates strongly advanced with increasing age in short-distance migrants, but hardly advanced in long-distance migrants, causing the difference in timing of breeding between long- and short-distance migrants to be more pronounced among older birds. Breeding success and chick body condition decreased over the season, and chicks that fledged late in the season or in poor condition were less likely to survive until adulthood. As a result, long-distance migrants - particularly the males and older birds - likely recruit fewer offspring into the breeding population than short-distance migrants. This inference is important for predicting the population-level consequences of changes in winter habitat suitability throughout the wintering range. Assuming that the long-distance migrants - being the birds that occupy the traditional wintering areas - are not the poorer quality birds, and that the observed age-dependent patterns in timing of breeding are driven by within-individual effects and not by selective disappearance, our results suggest that the strategy of long-distance migration, involving the crossing of the Sahara to winter in West Africa, incurred a cost by reducing reproductive output, albeit a cost paid only later in life. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)998-1009
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 3-Jul-2017


  • Journal Article
Related Press / Media
  1. Aantal lepelaars zegt wat over de Waddenzee

    Jeltje Jouta & Petra Goeij, de


    1 item of media coverage, 1 media contribution

    Press / Media: Research

  2. In Focus on Spoonbills: Stay-at-home strategy brings fitness benefits to migrants

    Theunis Piersma, Tamar Lok, Petra Goeij, de, Joost Tinbergen & Otto Overdijk


    1 item of media coverage

    Press / Media: Research

View all (2) »

View graph of relations

Download statistics

No data available

ID: 43730621