Physiological adaptations and decision-making during migration

Migratory birds often use a stop-and-go migratory strategy: long flights are alternated to stopovers, during which the animals rest and refuel.
Our research focuses on the physiological mechanisms that control the decision of resuming migrating at stopover sites.

Songbird migration over the Mediterranean

Migration path

Every year millions of birds cross the Mediterranean sea to reach their breeding sites in Europe or their African winter quarters. We have established a research station in Ponza, where we study bird migration in collaboration with the local ringing station.

Recent work has shown that the decision of resuming migration depends mainly on the physiological conditions of the birds and on the availability of food.

Our partners is this research are the groups of Wolfgang Goymann at the Max-Planck-Institute for Ornithology 2, Seewiesen, Germany, Massimiliano Cardinale who is directing the Ponza ringing station 3, Claudio Carere at the University of Tuscia, Viterbo, Italy, and Fernando Spina, Institute for Environmental Protection and Research, ISPRA 4.

Click 5 to see a 15-min documentary movie on our work (in Italian) made by the national channel Rai3!


The Research Council of Norway     University of Ferrara     Max-Planck Society

Selected publications

Fusani, L., Cardinale, M., Schwabl, I. & Goymann, W. 2011. Food availability but not melatonin affects nocturnal restlessness in a wild migrating passerine. Hormones and Behavior, 59, 187–192.

Carere, C., Costantini, D., Fusani, L., Alleva, E. & Cardinale, M. 2010. Hypothermic abilities of migratory songbirds at a stopover site. Rend. Fis. Acc. Lincei, 21, 323-334.

Goymann, W., Spina, F., Ferri, A. & Fusani, L. 2010. Body fat influences departure from stopover sites in migratory birds: evidence from whole island telemetry. Biology Letters, 6, 478-481.

Fusani, L., Cardinale, M., Carere, C. & Goymann, W. 2009. Stopover decision during migration: physiological conditions predict nocturnal restlessness in wild passerines. Biology Letters, 5, 302-305.

Fusani, L. & Gwinner, E. 2005. Melatonin and nocturnal migration. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1046, 264-270.

Fusani, L. & Gwinner, E. 2004. Simulation of migratory flight and stopover affects night levels of melatonin in a nocturnal migrant. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B-Biological Sciences, 271, 205-211.