Migratory Connectivity

Migratory connectivity is the geographic and temporal linking of individuals and populations between one life cycle stage and another, such as between breeding and wintering locations for a migratory bird. Because events within each period of the annual cycle are often inextricably linked, understanding migratory connectivity has important implications for population dynamics and species conservation.

To understand why a migratory species’ population changes over time requires complete information on the ecology and threats throughout the entire annual cycle. It is for this reason that migratory connectivity information is so important to solving difficult environmental issues from climate change to the spread of infectious disease. Our ultimate goal is for these data to be applied to real-world problems and for land managers to incorporate migratory connectivity information into conservation plans. Without an understanding migratory connectivity, conservation investments can be ineffective because they are implemented at the wrong place or time, or for the wrong purpose.

Unfortunately, our understanding of migratory connectivity for most species is rudimentary. For migratory animals, especially birds, research has historically been biased towards the breeding period and examined as disjointed seasonal events. For migratory animals, understanding the selective processes has been impossible because of our inability to follow individuals year-round and determine where breeding populations winter and where winter populations breed.

The good news is that our appreciation for the need for these sorts of data is coming at time when advanced technologies, such as satellite transmitters, light-level and GPS archival geolocators, stable isotopes and genomics are exponentially increasing our ability to track animals throughout their annual cycles and better understand their migratory connectivity.

Given the rapid advancement of technology and migratory connectivity data, Marra created the Migratory Connectivity Project in 2009 to facilitate the development of new technologies and serve as a portal for gathering and disseminating information. Our ultimate goal is to advance the conservation and understanding of animals throughout their full life cycle by promoting the science of migratory connectivity.

The Migratory Connectivity Project has completed or is working on or contributing to many range-wide tracking studies, including with Long-billed Curlews, Black-bellied Plovers, Red Knots, Common Nighthawk, Long-tailed, Pomarine, and Parasitic Jaegers, Artic Terns, Bluethroats, Mountain Plovers, Canada, Connecticut, and Kirtland’s Warblers, American Redstart, Yellow-billed Cuckoo and more. You can read about some of our expeditions here.