, Volume 162, Issue 1, pp 175-183
Date: 27 Aug 2009

Spring arrival along a migratory divide of sympatric blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla)

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The recent formation of a migratory divide in the blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) involves sympatrically breeding birds migrating to different overwintering quarters. Within the last 50 years, a novel migratory strategy has evolved resulting in an increasing proportion of birds now wintering in Britain instead of migrating to the traditional sites in the Mediterranean area. This rapid microevolution has been attributed to allochronic spring arrival of migrants from the respective wintering quarters leading to assortative mating. Moreover, blackcaps wintering in Britain may experience fitness advantages owing to improved local wintering conditions. We used stable hydrogen isotope signatures (δD) to scrutinize the degree of temporal segregation of blackcaps upon spring arrival and to test for carry-over effects in body condition associated with the disparate wintering environments. Although we found that migrants from Britain arrive significantly earlier on German breeding grounds than migrants from the Mediterranean region, we also found a considerable overlap in arrival times. In a resampling model, the mean probability of assortative mating of birds wintering in Britain is ≤28% in both years. These results suggest that allochrony alone is not a strong isolating barrier between the two subpopulations. Migrants from both wintering locations did not differ in terms of body mass, mass-tarsus residuals or mass-tarsus ratio and arrived in a similar reproductive disposition. Thus, blackcaps wintering in Britain do not gain an apparent fitness advantage on spring migration due to carry-over effects in body condition. Future studies should explore additional factors such as differences in song quality and habitat that might contribute to the rapid microevolution of the blackcap.

Communicated by Carlos Martinez del Rio.