Nomadism and seasonal range expansion in a large frugivorous bird

24 April 2014

Lenz, Johanna; Böhning-Gaese, Katrin; Fiedler, Wolfgang; Mueller, Thomas

Studies on the ranging behaviour of birds often suggest that ranges vary seasonally with larger ranges in the non-breeding compared to the breeding season. However, due to limitations in tracking methods very little is known about the underlying processes driving seasonal differences in ranging behaviour, especially in fragmented, heterogeneous landscapes. Such knowledge is particularly important if movements deliver essential ecosystem functions such as seed dispersal. We contrasted the daily ranging behaviour between the breeding and non-breeding season of a frugivorous bird and demonstrate how larger seasonal ranges in the non-breeding season emerge through switching from a stationary home range behaviour to nomadism. We tracked movements of 29 male trumpeter hornbills (Bycanistes bucinator) across a fragmented landscape of eastern South Africa during different breeding and non-breeding seasons using high temporal resolution GPS data-loggers. Birds in the breeding seasons showed a typical, stationary home range pattern. In the non-breeding seasons birds, rather than expanding their stationary daily ranges, switched to nomadic movements that were characterized by shifts of the general location of daily ranges to a different area every couple of days. We also found that during the breeding seasons hornbills were mostly located in large continuous forests; birds in the non-breeding seasons frequently used forest patches within the agricultural landscape and residential areas. These seasonal differences in the movement behaviour of trumpeter hornbills may have important consequences for seed dispersal of plant species. Our findings show how seasonal range expansion of frugivorous birds may be driven by fundamental behavioural changes that have important consequences for ecosystem processes.