Exploring the environmental drivers of waterfowl movement in arid landscapes using first-passage time analysis

Henry, Dominic A.W., Ament, Judith M., and Cumming, Graeme S. (2016) Exploring the environmental drivers of waterfowl movement in arid landscapes using first-passage time analysis. Movement Ecology, 4. 8. pp. 1-18.

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Background: The movement patterns of many southern African waterfowl are typified by nomadism, which is thought to be a response to unpredictable changes in resource distributions. Nomadism and the related movement choices that waterfowl make in arid environments are, however, poorly understood. Tracking multiple individuals across wide spatiotemporal gradients offers one approach to elucidating the cues and mechanisms underpinning movement decisions. We used first-passage time (FPT) to analyse high spatial and temporal resolution telemetry data for Red-billed Teal and Egyptian Geese across a 1500 km geographical gradient between 2008 and 2014. We tested the importance of several environmental variables in structuring movement patterns, focusing on two competing hypotheses: (1) whether movements are driven by resource conditions during the current period of habitat occupation (reactive movement hypothesis), or (2) whether movements are structured by shifts in the magnitude and direction of environmental variables at locations prior to occupation (prescient movement hypothesis).

Results: An increase in rainfall at a 32 day lag (i.e., prior to wetland occupancy), along with tagging site, were significant predictors of FPT in both waterfowl species. There was a positive relationship between NDVI and FPT for Egyptian Geese during this 32 day period; the relationship was negative for Red-billed Teal. Consistent with findings for migratory grazing geese, Egyptian Geese prioritised food quality over food biomass. Red-billed Teal showed few immediate responses to wetland filling, contrary to what one would predict for a dabbling duck, suggesting high dietary flexibility. Our results were consistent with the prescient movement hypothesis.

Conclusions: Using FPT analysis we showed that the proximate drivers of southern African waterfowl movement are the dynamics of rainfall and primary productivity. Waterfowl appeared to be able to perceive and respond to temporal shifts in resource conditions prior to habitat patch occupation. This in turn suggests that their movements in semi-arid landscapes may be underpinned by intimate knowledge of the local environment; waterfowl pursue a complex behavioural strategy, locating suitable habitat patches proactively, rather than acting as passive respondents.

Item ID: 45789
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 2051-3933
Keywords: waterfowl, NDVI, rainfall, Southern Africa, nomadic, first-passage time, Alopochen aegyptiaca, Anas erythrorhyncha
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© 2016 Henry et al. Open Access. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

Funders: Global Avian Influenza Network for Surveillance (GAINS), USAID, Wildlife Conservation Society, Percy FitzPatrick Institute, University of Cape Town, NRF
Projects and Grants: NRF Incentive Grant
Date Deposited: 21 Sep 2016 07:41
FoR Codes: 31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310301 Behavioural ecology @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960811 Sparseland, Permanent Grassland and Arid Zone Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 100%
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