, Volume 174, Issue 2, pp 595–608 | Cite as

Diffuse migratory connectivity in two species of shrubland birds: evidence from stable isotopes

  • Steven T. KnickEmail author
  • Matthias Leu
  • John T. Rotenberry
  • Steven E. Hanser
  • Kurt A. Fesenmyer
Conservation ecology - Original research


Connecting seasonal ranges of migratory birds is important for understanding the annual template of stressors that influence their populations. Brewer’s sparrows (Spizella breweri) and sagebrush sparrows (Artemisiospiza nevadensis) share similar sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) habitats for breeding but have different population trends that might be related to winter location. To link breeding and winter ranges, we created isoscapes of deuterium [stable isotope ratio (δ) of deuterium; δ 2H] and nitrogen (δ 15N) for each species modeled from isotope ratios measured in feathers of 264 Brewer’s and 82 sagebrush sparrows and environmental characteristics at capture locations across their breeding range. We then used feather \(\delta^{2} {\text{H}}_{\text{f}}\) and \(\delta^{15} {\text{N}}_{\text{f}}\) measured in 1,029 Brewer’s and 527 sagebrush sparrows captured on winter locations in southwestern United States to assign probable breeding ranges. Intraspecies population mixing from across the breeding range was strong for both Brewer’s and sagebrush sparrows on winter ranges. Brewer’s sparrows but not sagebrush sparrows were linked to more northerly breeding locations in the eastern part of their winter range. Winter location was not related to breeding population trends estimated from US Geological Survey Breeding Bird Survey routes for either Brewer’s or sagebrush sparrows. Primary drivers of population dynamics are likely independent for each species; Brewer’s and sagebrush sparrows captured at the same winter location did not share predicted breeding locations or population trends. The diffuse migratory connectivity displayed by Brewer’s and sagebrush sparrows measured at the coarse spatial resolution in our analysis also suggests that local environments rather than broad regional characteristics are primary drivers of annual population trends.


Artemisiospiza nevadensis Migratory connectivity Sagebrush Spizella breweri Stable isotope 



Our study was funded by the US Department of Defense Legacy Program, and the US Geological Survey, Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center. We appreciate fieldwork by C. Engleman, C. Fosdick, K. Gluckert, M. Hannon, A. Larned, J. McCabe, C. Poli, L. Tauzer, J. Van Gunst, and J. Warzybok. S. Heath, A. Holmes, M. Vander Haegen and B. Walker contributed feathers. We appreciate reviews by A. D. Chalfoun and five anonymous reviewers. W. E. Thogmartin and L. S. Bond provided statistical advice. F. L. Knopf gave the conceptual impetus for the study. This is contribution no. 77 of the Sagebrush Steppe Treatment Evaluation Project (SageSTEP), funded in part by the US Joint Fire Science Program, the Bureau of Land Management, and the National Interagency Fire Center. Any use of trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US Government.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg (outside the USA) 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Steven T. Knick
    • 1
    Email author
  • Matthias Leu
    • 1
    • 3
  • John T. Rotenberry
    • 2
    • 4
  • Steven E. Hanser
    • 1
  • Kurt A. Fesenmyer
    • 1
    • 5
  1. 1.US Geological Survey, Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center, Snake River Field StationBoiseUSA
  2. 2.Center for Conservation Biology and Department of BiologyUniversity of CaliforniaRiversideUSA
  3. 3.Biology DepartmentCollege of William and MaryWilliamsburgUSA
  4. 4.College of Biological SciencesUniversity of MinnesotaSt. PaulUSA
  5. 5.Trout UnlimitedBoiseUSA

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