Timing of Bird Migration Shaped by Food, Not Wind

Jim Crocker
5th April, 2024

Timing of Bird Migration Shaped by Food, Not Wind

Key Findings

  • In the Madeira archipelago, two petrel bird species breed two months apart and have different foraging habits
  • The birds' breeding schedules and foraging preferences likely reduce competition for food and support coexistence
  • Adaptations to different wind conditions may influence their breeding times and foraging efficiency
In the ecological theater, the quest for sustenance is a leading act, with species constantly navigating the fine line between competition and coexistence. One intriguing strategy that some species adopt to share the same geographic space, known as sympatry, is to differentiate their ecological roles, a phenomenon known as ecological segregation. A recent study by researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution delves into this concept by examining two gadfly petrel species endemic to the Madeira archipelago[1]. These birds not only share their habitat but also breed just two months apart, a pattern referred to as allochrony. The study aimed to unravel whether this breeding allochrony is supported by differences in the birds' foraging habits, which would indicate a foraging niche segregation. This means that the two species might be looking for food in different places or at different times, thereby reducing direct competition for resources. Additionally, the researchers explored whether adaptations to different wind conditions could drive this allochronic breeding, suggesting that each species has evolved to favor conditions that optimize their foraging efficiency. Previous research has highlighted the complexity of interspecific interactions, particularly in mammals, where different age classes and sizes can lead to varying impacts of competition[2]. This study extends such considerations to avian species, suggesting that temporal separation in breeding might also be a response to such ecological pressures. Moreover, the research builds on the understanding that body size and related oxygen storage capacity can influence foraging behavior and depth in diving animals[3]. While the petrels in question are not divers, the principle of physical adaptations shaping ecological roles remains relevant. The study employed cutting-edge technology, such as GPS tracking devices, to monitor the movement patterns of these petrels. By analyzing where and when the birds foraged, the researchers could infer the degree of overlap in their ecological niches. The findings revealed that, indeed, the two petrel species have different foraging preferences, which likely helps to minimize direct competition for food resources. The concept of sympatric speciation, where new species evolve from a single ancestral species while inhabiting the same geographic region, has been a contentious topic in evolutionary biology[4]. The Madeiran petrels offer a unique window into how species can diverge without physical barriers, with allochrony potentially serving as a mechanism for reproductive isolation. The genetic differentiation observed in other sympatric species that breed at different times, like the band-rumped storm-petrel, provides a backdrop for understanding the evolutionary processes at play in the Madeiran petrels[4]. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's study thus not only sheds light on the ecological strategies that allow for sympatric coexistence but also offers insights into the evolutionary dynamics of species. It demonstrates how subtle differences in ecological roles, driven by adaptations to environmental factors such as windscapes, can underpin significant biological processes like speciation. In conclusion, the research contributes to our understanding of how species coexist and evolve in shared habitats. It underlines the importance of ecological segregation as a strategy for reducing competition and highlights the role of species-specific adaptations in shaping the ecological and evolutionary trajectories of sympatric species. Through meticulous data collection and analysis, the study weaves together behavioral ecology and evolutionary biology, offering a clearer picture of the complex interactions that govern the diversity of life.

EcologyMarine BiologyEvolution


Main Study

1) Allochrony is shaped by foraging niche segregation rather than adaptation to the windscape in long-ranging seabirds

Published 2nd April, 2024


Related Studies

2) Same size--same niche? Foraging niche separation between sympatric juvenile Galapagos sea lions and adult Galapagos fur seals.


3) A phylogenetic analysis of the allometry of diving.

Journal: The American naturalist, Issue: Vol 167, Issue 2, Feb 2006

4) Sympatric speciation by allochrony in a seabird.

Journal: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Issue: Vol 104, Issue 47, Nov 2007

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