Javascript is not activated in your browser. This website needs javascript activated to work properly.
You are here

The lunar cycle drives migration of a nocturnal bird

  • Gabriel Norevik
  • Susanne Åkesson
  • Arne Andersson
  • Johan Bäckman
  • Anders Hedenström
Publishing year: 2019-10-01
Language: English
Pages: 3000456-3000456
Publication/Series: PLoS Biology
Volume: 17
Issue: 10
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Public Library of Science

Abstract english

Every year, billions of seasonal migrants connect continents by transporting nutrients, energy, and pathogens between distant communities and ecosystems. For animals that power their movements by endogenous energy stores, the daily energy intake rates strongly influence the speed of migration. If access to food resources varies cyclically over the season, migrants sensitive to changes in daily energy intake rates may adjust timing of migration accordingly. As an effect, individuals adjusting to a common temporal cycle are expected to approach synchrony in foraging and movement. A large-scale periodic pattern, such as the dark-light cycle of the moon, could thus synchronize migrations across animal populations. However, such cyclic effects on the temporal regulation of migration has not been considered. Here, we show the temporal influence of the lunar cycle on the movement activity and migration tactics in a visual hunting nocturnal insectivore and long-distance migrant, the European nightjar, Caprimulgus europeaus. We found that the daily foraging activity more than doubled during moonlit nights, likely driven by an increase in light-dependent fuelling opportunities. This resulted in a clear cyclicity also in the intensity of migratory movements, with occasionally up to 100% of the birds migrating simultaneously following periods of full moon. We conclude that cyclic influences on migrants can act as an important regulator of the progression of individuals and synchronize pulses of migratory populations, with possible downstream effects on associated communities and ecosystems.


  • Evolutionary Biology


  • ISSN: 1544-9173
Susanne Åkesson
E-mail: susanne [dot] akesson [at] biol [dot] lu [dot] se


Evolutionary ecology

+46 46 222 37 05

+46 70 245 04 23


Sölvegatan 37, Lund


Research group


Doctoral students and postdocs

PhD students, main supervisor

Himma Bakam

Links & downloads