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GPS Telemetry Reveals Occasional Dispersal of Wood Storks from the Southeastern US to Mexico

Simona Picardi1,*, Rena R. Borkhataria2, A. Lawrence Bryan Jr.3, Peter C. Frederick4, and Mathieu Basille1

1Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center, University of Florida, Davie, FL 33314, USA. 2Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Everglades Research and Education Center, Belle Glade, FL 33430, USA. 3Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, University of Georgia, Aiken, SC 29802, USA. 4Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611, USA. *Corresponding author.

Caribbean Naturalist, Special Issue No. 2 (2018)

Abstract
Mycteria americana (Wood Stork) is an iconic wading bird whose range includes Latin America and the southeastern US, where it is federally listed as threatened. Wetlands in the Gulf Coast states are used as post-breeding grounds by some individuals from both the US and the Mexican/Central American populations, and Wood Storks observed east and west of the Mississippi River Basin are generally thought to originate from the southeastern US and Mexico/Central America, respectively. In the context of a large-scale GPS telemetry study (133 individuals tracked over 14 years), we report the case of 2 Wood Storks that moved from Georgia and eastern Mississippi, respectively, to Mexico. One of the storks dispersed to Mexico as a juvenile and remained there for the subsequent 4 years into adulthood, indicating permanent settlement. Our findings provide evidence of potential mixing between the US and Mexican/Central American populations. These movements suggest that mixing between these Wood Stork populations, although probably sporadic, may be a more complex phenomenon than previously thought. While infrequent mixing may still have relevant consequences for gene flow between populations, such low levels of dispersal would most likely not be sufficient to support population replenishment from Mexico/Central America to the US or vice-versa.

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