Adaptive strategies in nocturnally migrating insects and songbirds: contrasting responses to wind


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Abstract

Summary1. Animals that use flight as their mode of transportation must cope with the fact that their migration and orientation performance is strongly affected by the flow of the medium they are moving in, that is by the winds. Different strategies can be used to mitigate the negative effects and benefit from the positive effects of a moving flow. The strategies an animal can use will be constrained by the relationship between the speed of the flow and the speed of the animal's own propulsion in relation to the surrounding air.2. Here we analyse entomological and ornithological radar data from north-western Europe to investigate how two different nocturnal migrant taxa, the noctuid moth Autographa gamma and songbirds, deal with wind by analysing variation in resulting flight directions in relation to the wind-dependent angle between the animal's heading and track direction.3. Our results, from fixed locations along the migratory journey, reveal different global strategies used by moths and songbirds during their migratory journeys. As expected, nocturnally migrating moths experienced a greater degree of wind drift than nocturnally migrating songbirds, but both groups were more affected by wind in autumn than in spring.4. The songbirds' strategies involve elements of both drift and compensation, providing some benefits from wind in combination with destination and time control. In contrast, moths expose themselves to a significantly higher degree of drift in order to obtain strong wind assistance, surpassing the songbirds in mean ground speed, at the cost of a comparatively lower spatiotemporal migratory precision.5. Moths and songbirds show contrasting but adaptive responses to migrating through a moving flow, which are fine-tuned to the respective flight capabilities of each group in relation to the wind currents they travel within.Migratory songbirds and moths must cope with challenging wind conditions during their long journeys. This paper is the first quantitative comparison of the flight strategies these two groups of migrants employ in relation to winds, and sheds light on the ecology and evolution of their migration strategies.

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