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Surviving at high elevations: an inter- and intra-specific analysis in a mountain bird community

Abstract

Elevation represents an important selection agent on self-maintenance traits and correlated life histories in birds, but no study has analysed whether life-history variation along this environmental cline is consistent among and within species. In a sympatric community of passerines, we analysed how the average adult survival of 25 open-habitat species varied with their elevational distribution and how adult survival varied with elevation at the intra-specific level. For such purpose, we estimated intra-specific variation in adult survival in two mountainous species, the Water pipit (Anthus spinoletta) and the Northern wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) in NW Spain, by means of capture–recapture analyses. At the inter-specific level, high-elevation species showed higher survival values than low elevation ones, likely because a greater allocation to self-maintenance permits species to persist in alpine environments. At the intra-specific level, the magnitude of survival variation was lower by far. Nevertheless, Water pipit survival slightly decreased at high elevations, while the proportion of transient birds increased. In contrast, no such relationships were found in the Northern wheatear. Intra-specific analyses suggest that living at high elevation may be costly, such as for the Water pipit in our case study. Therefore, it seems that a species can persist with viable populations in uplands, where extrinsic mortality is high, by increasing the investment in self-maintenance and prospecting behaviours.

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Acknowledgements

We are very grateful to the National Park Los Picos de Europa for providing permission to capture birds in the protected area. We are very grateful to Alvaréz P, Brunetti M., Cortés A., García J., Jiménez G., Jovani R., Juaréz N., Lomas M., Lozano M., Magaña O., and Segura A. for the great help during the field work. Thanks also to D’Amico M., Illera J.C., Santoro S., and Fernández-Chacón A. for their useful comments on the statistical analysis and Rochon E. for editing the English. We thank Olsson O. and an anonymous referee for providing insightful comments that improved this paper. Financial support was provided by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (CGL2008-02749, CGL2011-28177; FPI Grant BES-2012-053472) and Fundación Biodiversidad. JS works within the Madrid’s Government research group network REMEDINAL3-CM (S-2013/MAE-2719).

Author contribution statement

PL originally formulated the idea; LM, PL, JS, JRO, and GB performed fieldwork; GB, GT, and PL performed statistical analyses; GB wrote the manuscript; and PL, GT, JRO, and JS provided editorial advice.

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Correspondence to G. Bastianelli.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Additional information

This is the first study finding an interplay between intra- and inter-specific survival strategies that may affect species distribution along elevational gradients.

Communicated by Hannu J. Ylonen.

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Bastianelli, G., Tavecchia, G., Meléndez, L. et al. Surviving at high elevations: an inter- and intra-specific analysis in a mountain bird community. Oecologia 184, 293–303 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-017-3852-1

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Keywords

  • Adult survival
  • Elevation
  • Inter-specific variation
  • Capture–recapture analyses
  • Passerines