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Body mass and wing shape explain variability in broad-scale bird species distributions of migratory passerines along an ecological barrier during stopover

Abstract

Migrating birds are under selective pressure to complete long-distance flights quickly and efficiently. Wing morphology and body mass influence energy expenditure of flight, such that certain characteristics may confer a greater relative advantage when making long crossings over ecological barriers by modifying the flight range or speed. We explored the possibility, among light (mass <50 g) migrating passerines, that species with relatively poorer flight performance related to wing shape and/or body mass have a lower margin for error in dealing with the exigencies of a long water crossing across the Gulf of Mexico and consequently minimize their travel time or distance. We found that species-mean fat-free body mass and wing tip pointedness independently explained variability among species distributions within ~50 km from the northern coast. In both spring and autumn, lighter (i.e., slower flying) species and species with more rounded wings were concentrated nearest the coastline. Our results support the idea that morphology helps to shape broad-scale bird distributions along an ecological barrier and that migration exerts some selective force on passerine morphology. Furthermore, smaller species with less-efficient flight appear constrained to stopping over in close proximity to ecological barriers, illustrating the importance of coastal habitats for small passerine migrants.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, Fort Morgan Historic Site, and the 2009–2011 field technicians with the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) for all of their contributions to this study. We thank N. Targett, J. Scudlark, and D. Donahue with the University of Delaware (UD) Lewes campus for assistance with logistics; W. G. Shriver as master bander; and S. Mkheidze and A. Balogh for data collection in Delaware. We would also like to thank past and present members of the USM Migratory Bird Research Group and UD Aeroecology Program. Funding and support were provided by the University of Southern Mississippi, the National Science Foundation (Grants #1147096 and #0947944), the National Geographic Society (Grant # 8971-11), the University of Delaware, Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, and First State Marine Wind.

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Authors

Contributions

JJB, RJL, and FRM conceived and designed the study. JJB, JAS, and TJZ collected field data. RJL processed the image data. JJB processed the survey data. JAS and TJZ processed the banding data. JJB analyzed the data. JJB, RJL, JAS, and TJZ wrote the manuscript. FRM provided editorial advice.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jeffrey J. Buler.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Communicated by Ola Olsson.

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Buler, J.J., Lyon, R.J., Smolinsky, J.A. et al. Body mass and wing shape explain variability in broad-scale bird species distributions of migratory passerines along an ecological barrier during stopover. Oecologia 185, 205–212 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-017-3936-y

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-017-3936-y

Keywords

  • Flight
  • Ecophysiology
  • Gulf of Mexico
  • Migration
  • Passerine