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Seasonal body mass changes in Eurasian Golden Plovers Pluvialis apricaria staging in the Netherlands: decline in late autumn mass peak correlates with increase in raptor numbers

Authors

  • Theunis Piersma,

    Corresponding author
    1. Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, PO Box 59, 1790 AB Den Burg, Texel, the Netherlands
    2. Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies, University of Groningen, PO Box 14, 9750 AA Haren, the Netherlands
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  • Anita Koolhaas,

    1. Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, PO Box 59, 1790 AB Den Burg, Texel, the Netherlands
    2. Fryske Akademy, PO Box 54, 8900 AB Ljouwert, the Netherlands
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  • Joop Jukema

    1. Haerdawei 44, 8854 AC Oosterbierum, the Netherlands
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*Corresponding author.
Correspondence address: Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, Texel.
Email: theunis@nioz.nl

Abstract

Eurasian Golden Plovers Pluvialis apricaria staging in the Netherlands during the non-breeding season show strikingly constant seasonal changes in body mass with a first mass peak in late November and December and a second peak in late April and May. Despite huge sample sizes, variations in this pattern over successive years in the 1990s and among age classes were minuscule. However, in contrast to the body mass levels at other times of the year, there was a marked decline in the winter peak mass of Golden Plovers from the 1970s/early 1980s to 1989–2000. The decrease, by an average of 29 g, was about half the extra mass previously stored in autumn. This additional mass is known to consist of fat and may be interpreted as an energy store − insurance − for sudden cold spells when a negative energy balance forces the birds to move south and stay in front of the frostline. As the rate of the mass increase in September–October showed no change from the 1980s to the 1990s, changes in food availability are unlikely to explain the long-term mass decline. Also, there were no differences in two factors known to influence energy expenditure and feeding rate, air temperature and rainfall. The one striking environmental change relevant to plovers was the steep increase in the occurrence of raptors in the northern Netherlands in the 1980s, notably Peregrine Falcons Falco peregrinus and Goshawks Accipter gentilis. We argue that the halving of the winter mass peak over a decade is consistent with the hypothesis that under increased risk of predation, birds lower their body mass in order to reduce individual vulnerability, a reduction that may be traded off against an increased risk of starvation.

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