How Does a Duck Know?
A big part of my PhD work involved looking into potential cues for long distance movement in nomadic desert waterfowl. The arid landscapes of Australia are dominated by 'boom and bust' dynamics where long periods of drought are punctuated by periods of intense and continental-scale flooding. All life in the arid zone has to be able to respond to these rapid changes in resource distributions and many birds adopt nomadic movement behaviours. I used a combination of GPS tracking and remotely sensed satellite imagery to determine some of the cues that birds might use when they decide if today is a good day to undertake a 500km journey across the desert to a newly created wetland. Using behavioural change point analysis I identified distinct phases of movement including sedentary, long distance directed movement and an intermediate, exploratory phase. I found that these exploratory phases may play a key role in the movement decisions of nomadic waterfowl as they gather information on their local landscape conditions and integrate this with information on fine scale changes in weather conditions like temperature and atmospheric pressure before making their move. To read the full paper click here.