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Gutierrez Illan J, Wang G, Cunningham FL, King DT (2017) Seasonal effects of wind conditions on migration patterns of soaring American white pelican. PLoS ONE 12(10): e0186948. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal. pone.0186948


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Energy and time expenditures are determinants of bird migration strategies. Soaring birds have developed migration strategies to minimize these costs, optimizing the use of all the available resources to facilitate their displacement. We analyzed the effects of different wind factors (tailwind, turbulence, vertical updrafts) on the migratory flying strategies adopted by 24 satellite-tracked American white pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) throughout spring and autumn in North America. We hypothesize that different wind conditions encountered along migration routes between spring and autumn induce pelicans to adopt different flying strategies and use of these wind resources. Using quantile regression and fine-scale atmospheric data, we found that the pelicans optimized the use of available wind resources, flying faster and more direct routes in spring than in autumn. They actively selected tailwinds in both spring and autumn displacements but relied on available updrafts predominantly in their spring migration, when they needed to arrive at the breeding regions. These effects varied depending on the flying speed of the pelicans. We found significant directional correlations between the pelican migration flights and wind direction. In light of our results, we suggest plasticity of migratory flight strategies by pelicans is likely to enhance their ability to cope with the effects of ongoing climate change and the alteration of wind regimes. Here, we also demonstrate the usefulness and applicability of quantile regression techniques to investigate complex ecological processes such as variable effects of atmospheric conditions on soaring migration.

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