Habitat and resource use by waterfowl in the northern hemisphere in autumn and winter

J. Brian Davis, Matthieu Guillemain, Richard M. Kaminski, Céline Arzel, John M. Eadie, Eileen C. Rees


A particular aim of avian ecologists, especially those studying waterfowl Anatidae, in the 20th and early 21st centuries has been to elucidate how organisms use habitats and intrinsic resources to survive, reproduce and ultimately affect fitness. For much of the 20th century, research was mainly on studying species during the breeding season; however, by the 1970s, the focus had changed to understanding migratory waterfowl throughout their annual cycle and range in Europe and North America. Autumn and winter are considered the non-breeding seasons, but habitat and resource use through these seasons is crucial for completing spring migration and subsequent breeding. Here we review the literature on autumnal and winter habitat use by Nearctic and Palearctic waterfowl to determine characteristics of important landscapes and habitats for the birds during autumn migration and in winter. Selection of habitats and resources is discussed (when literature permits) in relation to Johnson’s (1980) model of hierarchical habitat selection. Habitat use by selected species or groups of waterfowl is also reviewed, and important areas for future research into habitat ecology are identified. We suggest that the greatest lack of understanding of waterfowl habitat selection is an ongoing inability to determine what habitats and intrinsic resources, at multiple scales, are truly available to birds, an essential metric in quantifying “selection” accurately. Other significant challenges that impede gaining knowledge of waterfowl ecology in the northern hemisphere are also described. Nonetheless, continued technological improvements and engagement of diverse interdisciplinary professional expertise will further refine understanding of waterfowl ecology and conservation at continental scales.

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