U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Date of this Version



Global Ecology and Conservation 37 (2022) e02155. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gecco.2022.e02155


Open Access


Migratory birds inhabit different areas during breeding and non-breeding seasons. Depending on the time of the year, they may utilize different resources available in seasonal habitats, but also are subjected to changing climate regimes during their annual life cycle. Migratory birds may adopt ecological niche tracking to cope with different environmental conditions between breeding and non-breeding grounds. The American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos, hereafter ‘AWPE’) is a short-distance migrant between the Gulf of Mexico coastal regions (nonbreeding grounds) and the Northern Great Plains (breeding grounds) of Canada and the US. The American White Pelican is a piscivore, feeding on fish, crayfish, and salamanders in inland freshwater wetlands. Cold, icy winter weather conditions substantially reduce and limit food resource availability at the breeding grounds during winters. Thus, we hypothesize that AWPEs would migrate between the breeding and non-breeding grounds to track climatic conditions that allow easier availability of resources. However, the niche tracking strategies have not been tested in AWPEs mainly due to the lack of reliable tracking data. Our objectives were to test whether the niche tracking or niche switching hypothesis would better explain seasonal variations in ecological niche overlap of AWPEs using the GPS locations of 19 tracked migrating birds, which had GPS locations at both breeding and non-breeding grounds. We estimated overlap of climate niche to test for seasonal niche tracking behaviors at both individual and population levels. Our results indicate that six out of 13 GPS-tracked AWPE individuals tracked climatic niche during the annual migration cycle. The analysis of the combined data of all 19 tracked AWPEs demonstrated that AWPEs tracked seasonal climate niche at the population level. Cold winter temperatures below zero (℃) may freeze the water surface of wetlands and shallow waterbodies, preventing AWPEs from acquiring sufficient food. The coupling of winter food resources with winter climatic conditions may result in climate niche tracking. Variation in climate niche tracking among individuals may offer ecological plasticity for AWPEs to cope with climatic changes.