Maina Handmaker

PhD Candidate

Department of Environmental Conservation

University of Massachusetts Amherst

Investigating patterns of site fidelity during migration

As rates of anthropogenic environmental change increase, it has become an urgent research priority to disentangle the drivers of animal space-use decisions. This is of particular concern for animals that repeatedly return to the same site (termed ‘site fidelity’), as the quality of many sites may be becoming less consistent and predictable over time. Migratory species might be especially vulnerable to these abrupt environmental changes, as they travel vast distances to reach stopover sites that they rely on remaining the same from year to year. 

With our high-resolution GPS tracking dataset of Whimbrel on the coast of South Carolina, we are investigating levels of individual site fidelity during a migratory stopover by comparing patterns of return within and between individuals over time.  Our results have shown that Whimbrel exhibit extremely precise individual foraging site fidelity during a migratory stopover that does not degrade over time, either within a single season or between seasons. This work is the first step for future work to investigate whether Whimbrel will be able to flexibly respond if their stopover habitat changes dramatically.