Interpreting seasonal range shifts in migratory birds: a critical assessment of 'short-stopping' and a suggested terminology

Johan Elmberg, Rebecca Hessel, Anthony David Fox, Lars Dalby

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


The term 'short-stopping' is increasingly used in ecology to describe spatio-temporal changes in occurrence of migratory species. Spurred by the insight that it has been used in a variety of contexts, we reviewed its use in avian ecology. A literature search yielded 59 papers explicitly treating short-stopping in birds, most of them in peer-reviewed journals. The term was first used in 1967 to describe a northward shift in wintering Canada Geese in North America and has been used with increasing frequency to the present day. Geese dominate the short-stopping literature, which is confined to the northern hemisphere. Short-stopping has been used to describe (1) a shortened autumn migration that results in a wintering distribution closer to breeding areas, (2) a shortened spring migration that results in a breeding distribution closer to wintering areas, and (3) a delay in autumn migration that leads to a perceived reduced abundance in some part of the winter range. We advocate that short-stopping should be used only to describe (1) range shifts that involve shortening of the migratory corridor, and that they are qualified explicitly by season (i.e. breeding/winter) and degree (i.e. full or partial range shift). In other cases of breeding, wintering or entire range shifts where the migratory corridor is elongated or remains the same, we recommend using the term 'range shift', qualified by season, geography and orientation (i.e. the direction of the range shift). We also discuss the need for spatially explicit avian count monitoring mechanisms (rather than capture-recapture or hunting bag data) designed specifically to track such changes in distribution in the future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)571-579
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Ornithology = Journal fur Ornithologie
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Swedish Standard Keywords

  • Ecology (10611)
  • Zoology (10608)


  • Breeding range
  • Climate change
  • Distribution
  • Migration
  • Range shift
  • Wintering range


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