Mo Verhoeven

Dr. Mo Verhoeven



Droevendaalsesteeg 10
6708 PB Wageningen

+31 (0) 317 47 34 00

The Netherlands


I'm an avian ecologist working in the ArcticMigrants project together with a large consortium of researchers.


- Drew Redshank in primary school
- Observed Lapwing in high school
- Studied Red Knots and Tree Swallows at university
- PhD on Black-tailed Godwits
- PostDoc on Arctic migratory birds




  • 2021–Present
    PostDoc at NIOO/NIOZ
  • 2019–2021
    PostDoc at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds



Editorial board memberships

  • 2020–Present
    Wader Study
  • 2020–Present
    Journal of Caribbean Ornithology


Peer-reviewed publicaties

  • Journal of Animal Ecology

    Age-dependent timing and routes demonstrate developmental plasticity in a long-distance migratory bird

    Mo Verhoeven, A.H. Jelle Loonstra, Alice D. McBride, Wiebe Kaspersma, Jos C.E.W. Hooijmeijer, Christiaan Both, Nathan R Senner, Theunis Piersma

    Longitudinal tracking studies have revealed consistent differences in the migration patterns of individuals from the same populations. The sources or processes causing this individual variation are largely unresolved. As a result, it is mostly unknown how much, how fast and when animals can adjust their migrations to changing environments. We studied the ontogeny of migration in a long-distance migratory shorebird, the black-tailed godwit Limosa limosa limosa, a species known to exhibit marked individuality in the migratory routines of adults. By observing how and when these individual differences arise, we aimed to elucidate whether individual differences in migratory behaviour are inherited or emerge as a result of developmental plasticity. We simultaneously tracked juvenile and adult godwits from the same breeding area on their south- and northward migrations. To determine how and when individual differences begin to arise, we related juvenile migration routes, timing and mortality rates to hatch date and hatch year. Then, we compared adult and juvenile migration patterns to identify potential age-dependent differences. In juveniles, the timing of their first southward departure was related to hatch date. However, their subsequent migration routes, orientation, destination, migratory duration and likelihood of mortality were unrelated to the year or timing of migration, or their sex. Juveniles left the Netherlands after all tracked adults. They then flew non-stop to West Africa more often and incurred higher mortality rates than adults. Some juveniles also took routes and visited stopover sites far outside the well-documented adult migratory corridor. Such juveniles, however, were not more likely to die. We found that juveniles exhibited different migratory patterns than adults, but no evidence that these behaviours are under natural selection. We thus eliminate the possibility that the individual differences observed among adult godwits are present at hatch or during their first migration. This adds to the mounting evidence that animals possess the developmental plasticity to change their migration later in life in response to environmental conditions as those conditions are experienced.
  • Global Change Biology

    Current breeding distributions and predicted range shifts under climate change in two subspecies of Black-tailed Godwits in Asia

    Bing Run Zhu, Mo Verhoeven, Nicolas Velasco, Lisa Sanchez-Aguilar, Zhengwang Zhang, Theunis Piersma

    Habitat loss and shifts associated with climate change threaten global biodiversity, with impacts likely to be most pronounced at high latitudes. With the disappearance of the tundra breeding habitats, migratory shorebirds that breed at these high latitudes are likely to be even more vulnerable to climate change than those in temperate regions. We examined this idea using new distributional information on two subspecies of Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa in Asia: the northerly, bog-breeding L. l. bohaii and the more southerly, steppe-breeding L. l. melanuroides. Based on breeding locations of tagged and molecularly assayed birds, we modelled the current breeding distributions of the two subspecies with species distribution models, tested those models for robustness and then used them to predict climatically suitable breeding ranges in 2070 according to bioclimatic variables and different climate change scenarios. Our models were robust and showed that climate change is expected to push bohaii into the northern rim of the Eurasian continent. Melanuroides is also expected to shift northward, stopping in the Yablonovyy and Stanovoy Ranges, and breeding elevation is expected to increase. Climatically suitable breeding habitat ranges would shrink to 16% and 11% of the currently estimated ranges of bohaii and melanuroides, respectively. Overall, this study provides the first predictions for the future distributions of two little-known Black-tailed Godwit subspecies and highlights the importance of factoring in shifts in bird distribution when designing climate-proof conservation strategies.
  • Journal of Ornithology

    Migration route, stopping sites, and non-breeding destinations of adult Black-tailed Godwits breeding in southwest Fryslân, The Netherlands

    Mo Verhoeven, A.H. Jelle Loonstra, Alice D. McBride, Christiaan Both, Nathan R Senner, Theunis Piersma

    In this paper, we extend our understanding of the migration of Black-tailed Godwits (Limosa limosa limosa) by describing: (1) the orientation and geographic locations of individual migratory routes and (2) the spatial distribution of godwits across seasons and years. We accomplish this using satellite-tracking data from 36 adult godwits breeding in the 200-ha Haanmeer polder in The Netherlands, from 2015 to 2018. During both southward and northward migration, godwits used a narrow migratory corridor along which most individuals made stops within a network of sites, especially the Bay of Biscay, France and Doñana, Spain. Most sites were used consistently by the same individuals across years. However, sites in Morocco were used during northward migration by 75% of individuals, but not revisited by the same individual across years. After southward migration, a small proportion (15%) of godwits spent the entire non-breeding period north of the Sahara, but most (85%) crossed the Sahara and spent at least part of the non-breeding season among seven coastal sites in West Africa and one site in the Inner Niger Delta. Although site-use patterns varied among individuals, individuals showed high site fidelity and were consistent in the number of sites they used from year to year. The considerable differences in the spatial distribution of individuals that breed within a kilometre of one another raise questions about the causes and consequences of individual migratory differences. We discuss that full annual cycle tracking of juveniles from birth to adulthood is needed to understand the source of these individual differences. Our results on the spatial distribution of godwits throughout their annual cycle lay an important foundation of information that can be used to help conserve this declining species.
  • Journal of Avian Biology

    Geolocators lead to better measures of timing and renesting in black-tailed godwits and reveal the bias of traditional observational methods

    Mo Verhoeven, A.H. Jelle Loonstra, Alice D. McBride, Pablo Macias, Wiebe Kaspersma, Jos C.E.W. Hooijmeijer, Egbert van der Velde, Christiaan Both, Nathan R Senner, Theunis Piersma

    Long-term population studies can identify changes in population dynamics over time. However, to realize meaningful conclusions, these studies rely on accurate measurements of individual traits and population characteristics. Here, we evaluate the accuracy of the observational methods used to measure reproductive traits in individually marked black-tailed godwits (Limosa limosa limosa). By comparing estimates from traditional methods with data obtained from light-level geolocators, we provide an accurate estimate of the likelihood of renesting in godwits and the repeatability of the lay dates of first clutches. From 2012 to 2018, we used periods of shading recorded on the light-level geolocators carried by 68 individual godwits to document their nesting behaviour. We then compared these estimates to those simultaneously obtained by our long-term observational study. We found that among recaptured geolocator-carrying godwits, all birds renested after a failed first clutch, regardless of the date of nest loss or the number of days already spent incubating. We also found that 43% of these godwits laid a second replacement clutch after a failed first replacement, and that 21% of these godwits renested after a hatched first clutch. However, the observational study correctly identified only 3% of the replacement clutches produced by geolocator-carrying individuals and designated as first clutches a number of nests that were actually replacement clutches. Additionally, on the basis of the observational study, the repeatability of lay date was 0.24 (95% CI 0.17–0.31), whereas it was 0.54 (95% CI 0.28–0.75) using geolocator-carrying individuals. We use examples from our own and other godwit studies to illustrate how the biases in our observational study discovered here may have affected the outcome of demographic estimates, individual-level comparisons, and the design, implementation and evaluation of conservation practices. These examples emphasize the importance of improving and validating field methodologies and show how the addition of new tools can be transformational.
  • Ardea

    Variation in Egg Size of Black-Tailed Godwits

    Mo Verhoeven, A.H. Jelle Loonstra, Alice D. McBride, J.M. Tinbergen, Rosemarie Kentie, Jos C.E.W. Hooijmeijer, Christiaan Both, Nathan R Senner, Theunis Piersma

    As is the case for most avian species, there is considerable variation in the egg size of Continental Black-tailed Godwits Limosa l. limosa breeding in The Netherlands. It is interesting that egg size has costs and benefits yet varies considerably at the population level. To better understand this variation in egg size, we tested its relationship to a suite of individual and environmental factors. We found that egg size can decrease up to 2.8% throughout a breeding season and that egg size increases with clutch size by 1.4% with each additional egg in the clutch. Female body mass and body size explained 5% of the total variation in egg size observed across the population. Furthermore, females wintering south of the Sahara laid 3% smaller eggs than those wintering north of the Sahara. We also found that egg size increases with age, which may indicate age-related differences in the endogenous and/or exogenous conditions of females. The variation in egg size was, however, mostly the result of consistent differences among individuals across years (repeatability = 0.60). A comparison of daughters with mothers suggested that most of this individual repeatability reflects heritable variation (heritability = 0.64). The actual individual traits that underlie this heritable variation among individuals remain mostly undetermined. Smaller eggs did have a slightly lower chance of hatching, but we found no relationship between egg size and chick survival. Finally, nest and chick survival were strongly correlated with lay date. Thus, in Black-tailed Godwits, lay date may actually reflect a female's endogenous and/or exogenous condition at the moment of egg-laying. This finding may be general across birds, since food supplementation experiments usually result in advanced laying and larger clutch sizes rather than in larger eggs.
  • Ardea

    Individual Black-Tailed Godwits Do Not Stick to Single Routes

    A.H. Jelle Loonstra, Mo Verhoeven, Adam Zbyryt, Ester Schaaf, Christiaan Both, Theunis Piersma

    The miniaturization of tracking devices is now rapidly increasing our knowledge on the spatiotemporal organization of seasonal migration. So far, most studies aimed at understanding within- and between-individual variation in migratory routines focus on single populations. This has also been the case for continental Black-tailed Godwits Limosa l. limosa (hereafter Godwits), with most work carried out on individuals from the Dutch breeding population, migrating in relatively large numbers in the westernmost part of the range. Here we report the migratory timing and routes of four adult individuals of the same subspecies from the low-density population in eastern Poland and compare this with previously published data on Godwits breeding in The Netherlands. During northward migration, the birds from Poland departed and arrived later from their wintering and breeding grounds. However, on southward migration the Polish breeding Godwits departed earlier, but arrived one month later than the Dutch birds on their wintering grounds in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite the small sample size of tracked birds from Poland, we find a significantly higher between-individual variation in timing during southward migration in Polish Godwits as compared to the Dutch Godwits. Furthermore, not only did migratory routes differ, but the few Polish Godwits tracked showed a higher level of between- and within-individual variation in route choice during both southward and northward migration. To explain this remarkable discrepancy, we propose that the properties of transmission of social information may be different between Godwits from a high-density population (i.e. the one in The Netherlands) and a low-density population (in Poland) and that this leads to different levels of canalization. To examine this hypothesis, future studies should not only follow individuals from an early age onwards, but also quantify and experimentally manipulate their social environments during migration.
  • Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution

    Variation from an unknown source

    Mo Verhoeven, A.H. Jelle Loonstra, Nathan R Senner, Alice D. McBride, Christiaan Both, Theunis Piersma

    Variation in migratory behavior is the result of different individual strategies and fluctuations in individual performances. A first step toward understanding these differences in migratory behavior among individuals is, therefore, to assess the relative contributions of inter- and intra-individual differences to this variation. We did this using light-level geolocators deployed on the breeding grounds to follow continental black-tailed godwits (Limosa limosa limosa) throughout their south- and northward migrations over multiple years. Based on repeated tracks from 36 individuals, we found two general patterns in godwit migratory behavior: First, migratory timing in black-tailed godwits varies mostly because individual godwits migrate at different times of the year. Second, individuals also exhibit considerable variation in timing within their respective migratory windows. Although the absolute amount of inter-individual variation in timing decreased over the course of northward migration, individual godwits still arrived at their breeding grounds across a span of more than 5 weeks. These differences in migratory timing among individuals are larger than those currently observed in other migratory bird species and suggest that the selective forces that limit the variation in migratory timing in other species are relaxed or absent in godwits. Furthermore, we could not attribute these individual differences to the sex or wintering location of an individual. We suggest that different developmental trajectories enabled by developmental plasticity likely result in these generally consistent, life-long annual routines. To investigate this possibility and to gain an understanding of the different selection pressures that could be acting during migration and throughout a godwit's life, future studies should track juvenile godwits and other migratory birds from birth to adulthood while also manipulating their spatiotemporal environment during development.

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