Range-wide effects of breeding- and nonbreeding-season climate on the abundance of a Neotropical migrant songbird

Geographic variation in the population dynamics of a species can result from regional variability in climate and how it affects reproduction and survival. Identifying such effects for migratory birds requires the integration of population models with knowledge of migratory connectivity between breeding and nonbreeding areas. We used Bayesian hierarchical models with 26 years of Breeding Bird Survey data (1982–2007) to investigate the impacts of breeding- and nonbreeding-season climate on abundance of American Redstarts (Setophaga ruticilla) across the species range. We focused on 15 populations defined by Bird Conservation Regions, and we included variation across routes and observers as well as temporal trends and climate effects. American Redstart populations that breed in eastern North America showed increased abundance following winters with higher plant productivity in the Caribbean where they are expected to overwinter. In contrast, western breeding populations showed little response to conditions in their expected wintering areas in west Mexico, perhaps reflecting lower migratory connectivity or differential effects of winter rainfall on individuals across the species range. Unlike the case with winter climate, we found few effects of temperature prior to arrival in spring (March–April) or during the nesting period (May–June) on abundance the following year. Eight populations showed significant changes in abundance, with the steepest declines in the Atlantic Northern Forest (-3.4%/yr) and the greatest increases in the Prairie Hardwood Transition (4%/yr). This study emphasizes how the effects of climate on populations of migratory birds are context dependent and can vary depending on geographic location and the period of the annual cycle. Such knowledge is essential for predicting regional variation in how populations of a species might vary in their response to climate change.