Dr. Andrea Flack
Over the past 100 years, many scientists have tried to decode the mechanisms determining the migratory movements of white storks. Our knowledge on stork migration is largely based on studying the movement behaviour of individual birds using rings, on-board tracking and remote sensing technologies. But social interactions play a hugely significant role in their decision-making; and the field of collective behaviour has emphatically shown that studying individuals in isolation does not lead to a complete understanding of the functioning of the whole system. My research aims at understanding the relative contributions of inherited, environmental and social factors on migratory decisions of storks; and it connects collective movement phenomena to ecological and population-level processes. Some projects, I’m currently working on are:
1) Understanding the costs and benefits associated with group migration and their implications on migratory strategies and survival
By tracking large flocks of white storks using high-resolution GPS-ACC devices, we quantify how collective migration reduces (or increases) migration costs (for example by improving thermalling performance). Also, using their lifetime trajectories, we evaluate how these differences affect individual migratory decisions survival, and population dynamics. This work is in collaboration with Dr Mate Nagy from the Department of Collective Behaviour.
2) Physiology, migration and group dynamics
Using a powerful combination of high-resolution GPS and heart rate loggers, we study several aspects of white stork migration. This includes as a first step the link between different individual behaviour and their energetic costs, especially during migration. This project is in collaboration with Paul Schaeffer from Miami University and Jan Taylor from the University of Bialystok. As a next step, we will also study the effect of social migration on an individual’s physiology by looking at the effect of group size and group composition on energetic costs and decision-making.
3) How is collective behaviour influenced by the environment?
As soaring migrants, storks depend strongly on the atmospheric conditions surrounding them. Through a set of displacement experiments, we aim at understanding how the interactions among individuals change depending on the environmental conditions around them.