A double buffer effect in a migratory shorebird population

Tómas G. Gunnarsson*, Jennifer A. Gill, Aevar Petersen, Graham F. Appleton, William J. Sutherland

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Citations (Scopus)


1. Buffer effects occur when increases in population size result in an increasing proportion of a population inhabiting poor quality sites. When there are fitness costs to inhabiting poor sites, buffer effects can potentially regulate population sizes. In migratory populations, the regulatory capacity of buffer effects will clearly be influenced by their role in both the breeding and nonbreeding seasons, but previous studies have been restricted to one season only. 2. Icelandic black-tailed godwits Limosa limosa islandica are currently increasing in number and previous studies have revealed a large-scale buffer effect operating on the wintering grounds. 3. Here, we reconstruct the pattern of population expansion and colonization of new breeding grounds, in relation to breeding habitat quality, to investigate whether a buffer effect is also operating during the breeding season. 4. Godwit breeding success is higher in marsh habitats than in dwarf-birch bogs. Prey densities are also higher in marsh habitats, and breeding success increases with the density of shallow pools, which are more common on marsh sites. Large lowland basins with higher marsh coverage were colonized earlier than small ones with low marsh coverage. Recent colonizations have been into basins that are closer to occupied sites and have higher cover of dwarf-birch bog. 5. Thus godwits appear to be expanding into poorer quality breeding habitat as well as poorer quality winter habitat. The large spatial scale of these analyses and the fitness costs of occupying poor quality sites suggest that this double buffer effect is likely to play a key role in regulating this expanding population. In most migratory populations, some level of density dependence is likely to operate at both ends of the range. Double buffer effects may therefore be a common phenomenon and an important mechanism regulating migratory populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)965-971
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2005

Other keywords

  • Buffer effects
  • Density dependence
  • Expansion pattern
  • Habitat quality
  • Limosa limosa islandica
  • Migratory population
  • Waders


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