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Linking El Niño, local rainfall, and migration timing in a tropical migratory species


  • Allison K. Shaw,

    Corresponding author
    1. Division of Evolution, Ecology and Genetics, Research School of Biology, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, Australia
    2. Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN, USA
    • Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, USA
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  • Kathryn A. Kelly

    1. Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
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Correspondence: Allison K. Shaw, tel. +61 02 612 58057, fax +61 02 612 55573, e-mail:


Current climate models project changes in both temperature and precipitation patterns across the globe in the coming years. Migratory species, which move to take advantage of seasonal climate patterns, are likely to be affected by these changes, and indeed, a number of studies have shown a relationship between changing climate and the migration timing of various species. However, these studies have almost exclusively focused on the effects of temperature change on species that inhabit temperate zones. Here, we explore the relationship between rainfall and migration timing in a tropical species, Gecarcoidea natalis (Christmas Island red crab). We find that the timing of the annual crab breeding migration is closely related to the amount of rain that falls during a ‘migration window’ period prior to potential egg release dates, which is in turn related to the Southern Oscillation Index, an atmospheric El Niño- Southern Oscillation Index. As reproduction in this species is conditional on successful migration, major changes in migration patterns could have detrimental consequences for the survival of the species. This study serves to broaden our understanding of the effects of climate change on migratory species and will hopefully inspire future work on rainfall and tropical migrations.