Loss of functional connectivity in migration networks induces population decline in migratory birds

Yanjie Xu, Yali Si*, Yingying Wang, Yong Zhang, Herbert H.T. Prins, Lei Cao, Willem F. de Boer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Migratory birds rely on a habitat network along their migration routes by temporarily occupying stopover sites between breeding and non-breeding grounds. Removal or degradation of stopover sites in a network might impede movement and thereby reduce migration success and survival. The extent to which the breakdown of migration networks, due to changes in land use, impacts the population sizes of migratory birds is poorly understood. We measured the functional connectivity of migration networks of waterfowl species that migrate over the East Asian-Australasian Flyway from 1992 to 2015. We analysed the relationship between changes in non-breeding population sizes and changes in functional connectivity, while taking into account other commonly considered species traits, using a phylogenetic linear mixed model. We found that population sizes significantly declined with a reduction in the functional connectivity of migration networks; no other variables were important. We conclude that the current decrease in functional connectivity, due to habitat loss and degradation in migration networks, can negatively and crucially impact population sizes of migratory birds. Our findings provide new insights into the underlying mechanisms that affect population trends of migratory birds under environmental changes. Establishment of international agreements leading to the creation of systematic conservation networks associated with migratory species' distributions and stopover sites may safeguard migratory bird populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e01960
JournalEcological applications : a publication of the Ecological Society of America
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019


  • bird migration
  • habitat loss
  • life history
  • network robustness
  • population dynamics
  • species traits
  • wetland

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