Benson, Thomas J.

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  • Data package
    Data from: Fat, weather, and date affect migratory songbirds’ departure decisions, routes, and time it takes to cross the Gulf of Mexico
    (2016-09-08) Deppe, Jill L.; Ward, Michael P.; Bolus, Rachel T.; Diehl, Robert H.; Celis-Murillo, Antonio; Zenzal, Theodore J. Jr.; Moore, Frank R.; Benson, Thomas J.; Smolinsky, Jaclyn A.; Schofield, Lynn N.; Enstrom, David A.; Paxton, Eben H.; Bohrer, Gil; Beveroth, Tara A.; Raim, Arlo; Obringer, Renee L.; Delaney, David; Cochran, William W.
    Approximately two thirds of migratory songbirds in eastern North America negotiate the Gulf of Mexico (GOM), where inclement weather coupled with no refueling or resting opportunities can be lethal. However, decisions made when navigating such features and their consequences remain largely unknown due to technological limitations of tracking small animals over large areas. We used automated radio telemetry to track three songbird species (Red-eyed Vireo, Swainson’s Thrush, Wood Thrush) from coastal Alabama to the northern Yucatan Peninsula (YP) during fall migration. Detecting songbirds after crossing ∼1,000 km of open water allowed us to examine intrinsic (age, wing length, fat) and extrinsic (weather, date) variables shaping departure decisions, arrival at the YP, and crossing times. Large fat reserves and low humidity, indicative of beneficial synoptic weather patterns, favored southward departure across the Gulf. Individuals detected in the YP departed with large fat reserves and later in the fall with profitable winds, and flight durations (mean = 22.4 h) were positively related to wind profit. Age was not related to departure behavior, arrival, or travel time. However, vireos negotiated the GOM differently than thrushes, including different departure decisions, lower probability of detection in the YP, and longer crossing times. Defense of winter territories by thrushes but not vireos and species-specific foraging habits may explain the divergent migratory behaviors. Fat reserves appear extremely important to departure decisions and arrival in the YP. As habitat along the GOM is degraded, birds may be limited in their ability to acquire fat to cross the Gulf.
  • Data package
    Data from: Study "GPS tracking of eastern whip-poor-will"
    (2023-01-24) Skinner, Aaron A.; Ward, Michael P.; Souza-Cole, Ian; Wright, James R.; Thompson, Frank R., III; Benson, Thomas J.; Matthews, Stephen N.; Tonra, Christopher M.
    Aim: A full annual cycle approach to conservation and understanding of regional population trends requires an understanding of migratory connectivity. We present tracking data on the eastern whip-poor-will (Antrostomus vociferus), a Neotropical migrant that has declined by 70% in recent decades. When and where populations of this species are limited throughout the annual cycle is poorly understood. Location: Breeding area: midwestern United States; passage area and winter area: midwestern/southern United States, Mexico, Central America. Methods: We utilized data from 52 archival GPS tags from five breeding areas covering a 9.5-degree latitudinal span (~1000 km) of the whip-poor-will breeding range in the summers of 2017 and 2019. We identified migratory routes and spatiotemporal bottlenecks, stopover and wintering locations, calculated migratory connectivity throughout migration and on the wintering grounds and tested predictions for three latitudinal connectivity patterns. Results: Whip-poor-wills circumvented the Gulf of Mexico, and populations across a large latitudinal gradient came together in eastern Texas in early October, resulting in decreased connectivity throughout migration. Breeding-winter migratory connectivity was low (MC = 0.22 ± 0.12), with extensive overlap of core wintering areas in southern Mexico and Guatemala. The overlap of wintering areas by individuals from dispersed breeding latitudes suggests that whip-poor-wills most closely resemble telescopic migrants. Main conclusions: Circumventing the Gulf of Mexico influenced connectivity in the whip-poor-will, funnelling individuals into a small region in eastern Texas in migration and likely influencing breeding-winter connectivity. Thus, geographically dispersed breeding populations overlap in space and time during migration and winter, and non-breeding season conditions affecting populations (both positively and negatively) impact individuals from across the core breeding range. For example, extensive deforestation occurring in the whip-poor-will's core wintering area likely impacts individuals from all five deployment locations. We demonstrate that combining multiple indices of spatiotemporal cohesion is critical to fully understand how migratory animals are distributed in the non-breeding season.