Increasing phenological asynchrony between spring green-up and arrival of migratory birds

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Scientific Reports, Volume 7 (2017)

Consistent with a warming climate, birds are shifting the timing of their migrations, but it remains unclear to what extent these shifts have kept pace with the changing environment. Because bird migration is primarily cued by annually consistent physiological responses to photoperiod, but conditions at their breeding grounds depend on annually variable climate, bird arrival and climate-driven spring events would diverge. We combined satellite and citizen science data to estimate rates of change in phenological interval between spring green-up and migratory arrival for 48 breeding passerine species across North America. Both arrival and green-up changed over time, usually in the same direction (earlier or later). Although birds adjusted their arrival dates, 9 of 48 species did not keep pace with rapidly changing green-up and across all species the interval between arrival and green-up increased by over half a day per year. As green-up became earlier in the east, arrival of eastern breeding species increasingly lagged behind green-up, whereas in the west—where green-up typically became later—birds arrived increasingly earlier relative to green-up. Our results highlight that phenologies of species and trophic levels can shift at different rates, potentially leading to phenological mismatches with negative fitness consequences.