Migrant Landbird Study Group

Promoting collaborative research for migratory landbirds across flyways

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Janne Ouwehand

Study species: Pied Flycatcher

Research topics: Full annual cycle; Geolocation tracking; Wintering ecology

Institution location: University of Groningen

Research locations: Comoé National Park, Ivory Coast; Dwingelderveld Drenthe, Netherlands

A strong passion for nature and travelling around the world… Together with curiosity, involvement and an exploring mind they form the foundation of my field research in animal ecology.

After a BSc in forestry and nature management with extensive fieldwork on a wide range of animals (sea-turtles, birds, wildlife), and a couple of years working experience at Altenburg & Wymenga ecological company, I went back to school.

During my MSc. 'Evolutionary Biology' at the University of Groningen I got in contact with Prof. Christiaan Both and the amazing study system of the insectivorous Afro-Palearctic migrant, the pied flycatcher. This species has become a model to understand how flexible migrants’ can respond when environments are rapidly changing. For such I well-studied system, I was surprised how limited the knowledge was about the annual cycles once they leave the breeding grounds. This stimulated me to write a PhD proposal that also included non-breeding work in this species.

In my PhD thesis (published in Oct 2016: ‘Track Changes in Pied Flycatchers’) I examined the possibilities of pied flycatchers to advance migration schedules to track environmental changes, such as advancements in peak-food availability during breeding as a result of climate warming. Migration and wintering conditions were described with the help of stable isotope analysis and geolocation loggers, field work in Ghana, while individuals’ arrival schedules were also investigated at a Dutch breeding population.

The main conclusion from this thesis is that a further advancement in laying dates in response to spring warming in this population can be achieved via adjustments in the departure date from Africa. However, such adaptation could be slowed down or prevented if harsh circumstances during the winter in Africa or during spring migration hinder successful and early spring arrival. Particularly wintering conditions seem to play a key – but still poorly understood – role in successfully preparing spring migration, and yet, are subject to large-scale habitat change.

Since 2017, I work as a postdoc at the University of Groningen to study whether such non-breeding constraints exists, for which I studied birds at wintering sites in Ivory Coast (2017-2020), but also continuing with geolocation tracking pied flycatchers in several other (breeding) populations.

The project is a mix of conservation-based and fundamental science aim to understand the role of wintering dynamics in annual cycles of Afro-Palearctic migrants, like pied flycatchers, in close collaboration with other researchers and local partners.