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Dispersal and climate change: a case study of the Arctic tern Sterna paradisaea


A. P. Møller, tel. +33 1 44 27 25 94, fax +33 1 44 27 35 16, e-mail:


Dispersal is an important evolutionary process that can affect admixture of populations and cause rapid responses to changing climatic conditions due to gene flow from populations at different altitudes or latitudes already experiencing these conditions. We investigated long-term patterns of natal and breeding dispersal in a coastal seabird, the Arctic tern Sterna paradisaea, that experiences specific climatic conditions in the northern temperate and Arctic climate zones during breeding and different climatic conditions in the Antarctic during winter. Long natal and breeding dispersal distances were costly as shown by their effects on delayed breeding. Dispersal distances varied significantly among years, with natal dispersal showing a strong temporal increase during the last 70 years. Annual differences in dispersal distance could be accounted for by climate conditions in the breeding grounds and the winter quarters. Natal dispersal was related to climate conditions in both the year of hatching and the year of breeding, whereas breeding dispersal was only related to climate conditions in the second year of the dispersal event. Only the north Atlantic oscillation (NAO) index for winter showed a consistent temporal trend, suggesting that the temporal trend in natal dispersal distance must be caused by changes in the NAO (or associated phenomena). These findings indicate that dispersal can change rapidly in response to changing climate conditions.

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