Atmospheric teleconnections and Eurasian snow cover as predictors of a weather severity index in relation to Mallard Anas platyrhynchos autumn–winter migration

Michael L. Schummer, Judah Cohen, Richard M. Kaminski, Michael E. Brown, Charles L. Wax


Research on long-term trends in annual weather severity known to influence migration and winter distributions of Mallard Anas platyrhynchos and other migratory birds is needed to predict effects of changing climate on: 1) annual distributions and vital rates of these birds, 2) timing of habitat use by migratory birds, and 3) demographics of the hunters of these species. Weather severity thresholds developed previously for Mallard were used to calculate weather severity and spatiallydepicted Weather Severity Index Anomalies (± km2, WSIA), in comparison with normal conditions, for Mallard in eastern North America from November–January 1950–2008. We determined whether WSIA differed among decades and analysed the effects of atmospheric teleconnections and Eurasian snow cover on annual variation in WSIA. Weather severity was mildest (+ WSIA) during the 2000s compared to other decades and differed substantially from the 1960s and 1970s (– WSIA). The Arctic Oscillation Index explained substantial variation in WSIA during El Niño and La Niña episodes, but not when the Oceanic Niño Index was neutral. Eurasian snow cover models accurately predicted if the WSIA would be greater or less than normal for 75% of the years studied. Our results may provide a partial explanation for recent observations of interrupted or reduced migration to southern latitudes by Mallard and other migratory birds during autumn–winter. Our models also provide ecologists with teleconnection models to help predict future distributions of Mallard and potentially  other migratory birds in eastern North America. Future investigations could include testing the influence of WSIA on Mallard survival and on annual movements and distributions for other migratory birds, to provide a better understanding of the influences of climate and changes in climate on population dynamics and the need to conserve particular habitats.

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