The environmental determinants of dispersal and migratory behaviour of long lived birds

Lead Research Organisation: University of East Anglia
Department Name: Environmental Sciences


In recent years, evidence has grown that the migratory behaviour of many bird species is changing in response to changing environmental conditions. In particular, non-migratory individuals have been reported in previously wholly migratory populations. These rapid changes in migratory behaviour provide an opportunity to understand the ontogeny of migratory behaviour and identify the mechanisms through which complex and highly evolved behaviours respond to changing environmental conditions. Changes in environmental conditions and in resource availability can alter the selection pressures operating on migratory behaviour, and individual strategies may differ according to the conditions individuals will experience. Long-lived birds may experience considerable changes in environment and resource availability during their life-time, hence it would be advantageous for individuals to be flexible and adopt the migratory strategy that best takes advantage of changing environmental conditions. This has rarely been observed and individuals tend to be consistent in the migratory strategy they adopt in early life. This project will examine the environmental conditions that determine the establishment of different individual migratory strategies. Individual level data is difficult to obtain since the environmental data is not available at the scale individuals experience it.

This project will involve tracking white storks (large, long-lived birds) and simultaneously monitoring the environmental conditions which individual birds experience. Our current GPS/GSM loggers can record accelerometer and temperature data but new sensors are needed to monitor other environmental parameters that may affect dispersal and movement (wind speed, direction, humidity). We will monitor how changes in environmental conditions will affect the movement, migratory behaviour and mortality of resident and migratory white storks.

This project will benefit from the experience of previous work done with tracking white storks in Portugal and Spain and will be linked to an existing NERC POC for the development of new tracking devices to monitor the movement behavior of animals.
White storks are a good study system because they are large long-lived species likely to have adaptable behaviour because they experience variation in environmental conditions through their lives. We will track the movement of 40 juveniles and 20 adults and their movement in response to changes in environmental conditions. The birds will be trapped at the nest, their fitness, sex and age will be recorded. Movement characteristics (speed, direction, flight type and distance moved) will be related to the data obtained by the environmental sensors on the tracking devices and to ground cover on the locations where birds land.

- Identify the environmental determinants of dispersal and migratory behaviour, controlling for individual fitness, age and sex;
- Incorporate new sensors in existing dataloggers and create new prototypes that simultaneous monitor bird movement (GPS), behavior (accelerometer) and environmental parameters (e.g. temperature, wind speed, barometer)
- Determine the influence of environmental parameters in the demography of white storks including migration and over-winter survival, arrival date, nest-site selection, and breeding success.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
NE/N012070/1 30/09/2016 30/03/2025
1942320 Studentship NE/N012070/1 01/01/2018 30/11/2021 Marta Serra Acacio
NE/W503034/1 31/03/2021 30/03/2022
1942320 Studentship NE/W503034/1 01/01/2018 30/11/2021 Marta Serra Acacio
Description NEXUSS Capital Fund
Amount £25,000 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2018 
End 03/2018
Description UCT-UEA Newton PhD partnership on Understanding the Climate System and Coping with Climate Change
Amount £3,000 (GBP)
Organisation Newton Fund 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2018 
End 12/2018
Description CIBIO/InBio - University of Porto, Portugal 
Organisation University of Porto
Country Portugal 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution During my PhD I am collecting data on the field that will be used by the members of this project. We have also deployed 30 devices on juvenile white storks; this data will be used by other members of the project. I am also analysing data collected by myself and by other members of this project.
Collaborator Contribution During this project, the researchers from the University of Porto have deployed 50 devices on adult white storks; this data will used in my analysis. They have also supported a part of my expenses during fieldwork and a participation in the X Portuguese Ornithology Congress, in 2019.
Impact This collaboration is merely scientific. The outputs this collaboration are the following: 1 - article publication: Soriano-Redondo, et al (2020) Testing alternative methods for estimation of bird migration phenology from GPS tracking data 2 - participation on the X Portuguese Ornithology Congress
Start Year 2018
Description University of Cape Town 
Organisation University of Cape Town
Department Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology
Country South Africa 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution In this collaboration I analysed movement data of shoebills collected by researchers from the FitzPatrick Institute from 2011 until 2018. This is the second chapter of my PhD thesis.
Collaborator Contribution The FitzPatrick Institute collected movement data of shoebills from 2011 until 2018, that I analysed as a part of this collaboration and my PhD thesis.
Impact This collaboration led to the development of my second PhD chapter, which is now being prepared for publication at an international peer-review journal.
Start Year 2018
Description Le Figaro newspaper - "Ces cigognes qui ne migrant plus" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The project team was interviewed by Le Figaro, France's second largest newspaper. The journalists travelled to Portugal and met with several members of this project, including Marta Acácio.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Norwich Science Festival 2018 and 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Marta Serra Acacio, together with a colleague, Kate Rogerson, envisioned a board game to explain bird migration to the general public. In 2018, this game was brought to life in the Norwich Science Festival, one of the largest science events in the UK. The game was a success in 2018, attracting over 300 people to the Bird Migration stand, and the team was invited to join again in 2019. The general public was very interested in knowing more about bird migration in general, the white stork project at the University of East Anglia (UEA), as well as the technology being developed at UEA to track wildlife.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
Description Soapbox Science 2019 - "Fly another day: Spying on the incredible journeys of migratory birds" 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Soapbox Science is a novel public outreach platform for promoting women scientists and the science they do. These events aim to transform public areas into an arena for public learning and scientific debate. This event was a part of the Norwich Science Festival 2019, that had over 137,000 visitors. During the 1 hour activity, there were over 20 people attending the stand, both children and adults, wanting to know more about the research we're developing at University of East Anglia with white storks, as well as the technology being developed to study changes in migratory movements of birds. Other female scientists were eager to participate in this event in following years, wanting to broadcast their own science to the general public, while trying to change the stereotypical image of a scientist in our society.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019