Individual consistency in migration strategies of a tropical seabird, the Round Island petrel

Kirsty A. Franklin, Ken Norris, Jennifer A. Gill, Norman Ratcliffe, Anne-Sophie Bonnet-Lebrun, Simon J. Butler, Nik C. Cole, Carl G. Jones, Simeon Lisovski, Kevin Ruhomau, Vikash Tatayah, Malcolm A. C. Nicoll

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Background: In migratory species, the extent of within- and between-individual variation in migratory strategies can influence potential rates and directions of responses to environmental changes. Quantifying this variation requires tracking of many individuals on repeated migratory journeys. At temperate and higher latitudes, low levels of within-individual variation in migratory behaviours are common and may reflect repeated use of predictable resources in these seasonally-structured environments. However, variation in migratory behaviours in the tropics, where seasonal predictability of food resources can be weaker, remains largely unknown. Methods: Round Island petrels (Pterodroma sp.) are tropical, pelagic seabirds that breed all year round and perform long-distance migrations. Using multi-year geolocator tracking data from 62 individuals between 2009 and 2018, we quantify levels of within- and between-individual variation in non-breeding distributions and timings. Results: We found striking levels of between-individual variation in at-sea movements and timings, with non-breeding migrations to different areas occurring across much of the Indian Ocean and throughout the whole year. Despite this, repeat-tracking of individual petrels revealed remarkably high levels of spatial and temporal consistency in within-individual migratory behaviour, particularly for petrels that departed at similar times in different years and for those departing in the austral summer. However, while the same areas were used by individuals in different years, they were not necessarily used at the same times during the non-breeding period. Conclusions: Even in tropical systems with huge ranges of migratory routes and timings, our results suggest benefits of consistency in individual migratory behaviours. Identifying the factors that drive and maintain between-individual variation in migratory behaviour, and the consequences for breeding success and survival, will be key to understanding the consequences of environmental change across migratory ranges.

Original languageEnglish
Article number13
JournalMovement Ecology
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2022


  • Annual cycle
  • Flexibility
  • Geolocator
  • Individual variation
  • Non-breeding period
  • Pterodroma
  • Repeatability

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