Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research

Ontogeny of Migration

In this project researchers aim to disentangle genetic and learned components in migratory routines, capitalising on the natural difference in global distribution between two subspecies of red knot Calidris canutus islandica and C. c. canutus.

Red Knots. Photo: Jan van de Kam

How experience shapes behaviour

They design a series of lab- and field experiments to investigate how experience shapes individual behaviour.

Their first research objective is to find out how migratory routines in knots are influenced by experience gained during their first southward migration and subsequent winter. To this end, knot of the canutussubspecies will be ‘imprinted’ on the flyway of the islandica subspecies, kept in captivity for two years, and released with a transmitter attached to follow the bird on it’s migration journey.

Secondly, they aim to elucidate how earlier experience shape consistent individual differences in behaviour (i.e. personalities). This is executed in two steps: (1) they investigate how diet manipulation (and consequent physiological adjustment) affects exploration behaviour during a novel environment test, and (2) how birds with different levels of experience (juveniles and adults) differ in exploration behaviour in response to changes in food source.

Finally, the researchers examine the idea that some personalities (as established in lab trials) may be more likely to adapt to different migratory routines than others (as examined through tracking the same birds with transmitters on their migration journeys).

Project information
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Linked centre of expertise:
University of Groningen
1 Aug 2014 - 31 Aug 2018

Meet the team

Piersma, Theunis
Senior Research Leader
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