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. 2014 Oct;10(10):20140547.
doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2014.0547.

Extreme Nomadism in Desert Waterbirds: Flights of the Banded Stilt

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Free PMC article

Extreme Nomadism in Desert Waterbirds: Flights of the Banded Stilt

R D Pedler et al. Biol Lett. .
Free PMC article

Abstract

In contrast to well-studied Northern Hemisphere birds with spatially and temporally predictable seasonal migrations, waterbirds in desert biomes face major challenges in exploiting stochastic, rich, yet short-lived resource pulses in vast arid landscapes, leading to the evolution of nomadic behaviour. An extreme example is the banded stilt (Cladorhynchus leucocephalus), an opportunistic colonial breeder at remote inland salt lakes after infrequent rain events. Using satellite telemetry on 21 birds (tracked for a mean of 196.2 days), we reveal extensive, rapid and synchronized movement among individuals to and from salt lakes. Two birds left coastal refugia for the inland following rain, flying 1000-2000 km, while 12 others rapidly moved a mean of 684 km (range 357-1298 km) away from drying inland sites to the coast. Two individuals moved longitudinally across the continent, departing and arriving at the same points, yet travelling very different routes; one bird moving more than 2200 km in less than 2.5 days, the other more than 1500 km in 6 days. Our findings reveal movements nearly twice as long and rapid as recorded in other desert waterbirds. We reveal capability to rapidly detect and exploit ephemeral wetland resource pulses across the stochastic Australian desert.

Keywords: banded stilt; desert; movement ecology; nomadic; waterbird.

Figures

Figure 1.
Figure 1.
(a) Average annual rainfall (1961–1990) and (b) rainfall variability in Australia (1900–2003) demonstrating the arid and highly variable rainfall inland, in contrast to the wetter and more predictable locations in coastal southern Australia (data from Australia Bureau of Meteorology www.bom.gov.au/climate/averages/maps). Black triangles denote banded stilt satellite transmitter deployment sites used in this study. (Online version in colour.)
Figure 2.
Figure 2.
Summary of movement trajectories from deployment 1 (at Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre South, March 2012), 2 (Lake Harry, April 2013) and 3 (Morella Basin at the Coorong, April 2013). Each individual is shown by a different colour. Shown separately are: (a) long-distance flights towards the inland following inland rainfall; (b) flights from the inland to coastal refugia as arid-zone wetlands dried; (c) longitudinal flights between South Australia and Western Australia by two individuals; (d) flights between various coastal refuge sites during dry periods.

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