Songbirds are Resilient to Hurricane Disturbed Habitats During Spring Migration

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Biological Sciences


Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences


The Gulf of Mexico is a conspicuous feature of the Neotropical-Nearctic bird migration system. Traveling long distances across ecological barriers comes with considerable risks, and mortality associated with intercontinental migration may be substantial, including that caused by storms or other adverse weather events. However, little, if anything, is known about how migratory birds respond to disturbance-induced changes in stopover habitat. Isolated, forested cheniere habitat along the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico often concentrate migrants, during weather conditions unfavorable for northward movement or when birds are energetically stressed. We expected hurricane induced degradation of this habitat to negatively affect the abundance, propensity to stopover, and fueling trends of songbirds that stopover in coastal habitat. We used spring banding data collected in coastal Louisiana to compare migrant abundance and fueling trends before (1993-1996 and 1998-2005) and after hurricanes Rita (2006) and Ike (2009). We also characterized changes in vegetative structure before (1995) and after (2010) the hurricanes. The hurricanes caused dramatic changes to the vegetative structure, which likely decreased resources. Surprisingly, abundance, propensity to stopover, and fueling trends of most migrant species were not influenced by hurricane disturbance. Our results suggest that: 1) the function of chenieres as a refuge for migrants after completing a trans-Gulf flight may not have changed despite significant changes to habitat and decreases in resource availability, and 2) that most migrants may be able to cope with habitat disturbance during stopover. The fact that migrants use disturbed habitat points to their conservation value along the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

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Journal of Avian Biology





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