Linking migration and microbiota at a major stopover site in a long-distance avian migrant

Nikki Thie, Ammon Corl, Sondra Turjeman, Ron Efrat, Pauline L. Kamath, Wayne M. Getz, Rauri C.K. Bowie, Ran Nathan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Migration is one of the most physical and energetically demanding periods in an individual bird’s life. The composition of the bird’s gut or cloacal microbiota can temporarily change during migration, likely due to differences in diets, habitats and other environmental conditions experienced en route. However, how physiological condition, migratory patterns, and other drivers interact to affect microbiota composition of migratory birds is still unclear. We sampled the cloacal bacterial microbiota of a long-distance migrant, the steppe buzzard (Buteo buteo vulpinus), at an important spring stopover bottleneck in Eilat, Israel, after crossing the ca. 1800 km Sahara Desert. We examined whether diversity and composition of the cloacal microbiota varied with body condition, sex, movement patterns (i.e., arrival time and migration distance), and survival. Early arrival to Eilat was associated with better body condition, longer post-Eilat spring migration distance, higher microbial α-diversity, and differences in microbiota composition. Specifically, early arrivals had higher abundance of the phylum Synergistota and five genera, including Jonquetella and Peptococcus, whereas the phylum Proteobacteria and genus Escherichia-Shigella (as well as three other genera) were more abundant in later arrivals. While the differences in α-diversity and Escherichia-Shigella seem to be mainly driven by body condition, other compositional differences associated with arrival date could be indicators of longer migratory journeys (e.g., pre-fueling at wintering grounds or stopover habitats along the way) or migratory performance. No significant differences were found between the microbiota of surviving and non-surviving individuals. Overall, our results indicate that variation in steppe buzzard microbiota is linked to variation in migratory patterns (i.e., capture/arrival date) and body condition, highlighting the importance of sampling the microbiota of GPS-tracked individuals on multiple occasions along their migration routes to gain a more detailed understanding of the links between migration, microbiota, and health in birds.

Original languageEnglish
Article number46
JournalMovement Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2022


  • Cloacal microbiota
  • GPS-tracking
  • Long-distance migration
  • Steppe buzzard
  • Stopover bottleneck

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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