Early-life behaviour predicts first-year survival in a long-distance avian migrant

Shay Rotics, Sondra Turjeman, Michael Kaatz, Damaris Zurell, Martin Wikelski, Nir Sapir, Wolfgang Fiedler, Ute Eggers, Yehezkel S. Resheff, Florian Jeltsch, Ran Nathan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Early-life conditions have critical, long-lasting effects on the fate of individuals, yet early-life activity has rarely been linked to subsequent survival of animals in the wild. Using high-resolution GPS and body-acceleration data of 93 juvenile white storks (Ciconia ciconia), we examined the links between behaviour during both pre-fledging and post-fledging (fledging-to-migration) periods and subsequent first-year survival. Juvenile daily activity (based on overall dynamic body acceleration) showed repeatable between-individual variation, the juveniles' pre- and post-fledging activity levels were correlated and both were positively associated with subsequent survival. Daily activity increased gradually throughout the post-fledging period, and the relationship between post-fledging activity and survival was stronger in individuals who increased their daily activity level faster (an interaction effect). We suggest that high activity profiles signified individuals with increased pre-migratory experience, higher individual quality and perhaps more proactive personality, which could underlie their superior survival rates. The duration of individuals' fledging-to-migration periods had a hump-shaped relationship with survival: higher survival was associated with intermediate rather than short or long durations. Short durations reflect lower pre-migratory experience, whereas very long ones were associated with slower increases in daily activity level which possibly reflects slow behavioural development. In accordance with previous studies, heavier nestlings and those that hatched and migrated earlier had increased survival. Using extensive tracking data, our study exposed new links between early-life attributes and survival, suggesting that early activity profiles in migrating birds can explain variation in first-year survival.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20202670
Pages (from-to)20202670
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1942
StatePublished - 13 Jan 2021

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© 2021 The Author(s).


  • Animal Migration
  • Animals
  • Birds
  • Seasons


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