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Modeling the Geography of Migratory Pathways and Stopover Habitats for Neotropical Migratory Birds

Roger Tankersley, Jr., Tennessee Valley Authority
Kenneth Orvis


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Intact migratory routes are critical for the stability of forest-dwelling, neotropical, migratory bird populations, and mortality along migratory pathways may be significant. Yet we know almost nothing about the geography of available stopovers or the possible migratory pathways that connect optimal stopovers. We undertake a spatial analysis of stopover habitat availability and then model potential migratory pathways between optimal stopovers in the eastern United States. Using models of fixed orientation and fixed nightly flight distance between stopovers during spring migration, we explore whether a simple endogenous migratory program is sufficient to ensure successful migration across the modern landscape.

Our model runs suggest that the modern distribution of optimum stopovers in the eastern United States can be adequately exploited by birds following migratory pathways defined by fixed-orientation and fixed-distance nightly flights. Longer flight distances may increase the chances of success by enabling migrants to bypass locales offering little habitat. Our results also suggest that most southwest–northeast migratory pathways through the Appalachian mountains are intact. Lack of optimal habitat at key locations in the Southeast causes many modeled pathways to fail. We present a speculative view of regional migration patterns implied by predominant ideas found in stopover ecology literature, and demonstrate the need for broad-scale migration research, in the hope that our approach will foster other continental- and regional-scale projects.

Key words

Conservation, Forest fragmentation, Habitat, Migration, Modeling, Neotropical migratory birds, Stopover ecology

Copyright © 2003 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087