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Lower Predation Risk for Migratory Birds at High Latitudes

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Science  15 Jan 2010:
Vol. 327, Issue 5963, pp. 326-327
DOI: 10.1126/science.1183010

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Predator Avoidance Strategy

Selective pressures influencing bird migration can include availability of food, pressure from parasites and pathogens, and predation risk. The importance of the last of these is revealed by McKinnon et al. (p. 326; see the Perspective by Gilg and Yoccoz), who present an experimental analysis of the benefits of long-distance migration for reproduction in arctic-nesting birds. Measurements of a controlled effect of predation risk along a 3350-kilometer north-south gradient across arctic Canada provides evidence that the risk of nest predation decreases with latitude. Thus, birds migrating further north may acquire reproductive benefits in the form of reduced predation risk.

Abstract

Quantifying the costs and benefits of migration distance is critical to understanding the evolution of long-distance migration. In migratory birds, life history theory predicts that the potential survival costs of migrating longer distances should be balanced by benefits to lifetime reproductive success, yet quantification of these reproductive benefits in a controlled manner along a large geographical gradient is challenging. We measured a controlled effect of predation risk along a 3350-kilometer south-north gradient in the Arctic and found that nest predation risk declined more than twofold along the latitudinal gradient. These results provide evidence that birds migrating farther north may acquire reproductive benefits in the form of lower nest predation risk.

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