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Intraspecific variation in exploratory behavior and elevational affinity in a widely distributed songbird


Populations of the same species can vary substantially in their behavioral and morphometric traits when they are subject to different environmental pressures, which may lead to the development of different adaptive strategies. We quantified variation in exploratory behavior and morphometric traits among two rufous-collared sparrow populations that occur at low and high elevations in central Chile. Moreover, we used census and δ2H values of feather and blood to evaluate migration. We found that individual sparrows inhabiting high elevations were larger and showed more intense exploratory behavior in comparison with those that were captured at lower elevation. Moreover, we observed a steady decline in sparrow abundance during the winter and similar δ2H values for blood collected in the winter and summer at this site, which were significantly lower than blood δ2H values observed at low elevation. This pattern suggests that individuals do not move long distances during winter, and likely they remain at similar elevations in refuge habitats. As predicted, our results support the existent of different adaptive strategies among populations of the same species, and suggest that the combination of behavioral, morphometric, and stable isotope data is a novel and robust integrative approach to assess differences in adaptation across environmental gradients.

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We are grateful to R. Zuñiga, C. Venegas, P. Espíndola, and C. Flores for field assistance. Research was funded by FONDECYT- Chile 1140548 (RAV), 1160115 (PS), Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity (ICM-P05-002-Chile, and PFB-23-CONICYT-Chile), Fondo Basal FB 0002-2014 (PS) and Y.P. acknowledges support from a doctoral scholarship (21130127 CONICYT-Chile). Birds were captured under a permit issued by the Servicio Agricola Ganadero, Chile.

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YP conceived the ideas, led the analysis, and wrote the manuscript. VG assisted with the field work and contributed to the development of the ideas. VC assisted with the field work and edited the manuscript. SDN contributed to the ideas, provided assistance with the analysis and editing of the manuscript. PS contributed to the ideas, provided assistance with the analysis, and edited the manuscript, and RAV contributed to the development of the ideas and helped editing the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Yanina Poblete.

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The authors have no conflict of interest to declare.

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Communicated by Oliver P Love.

Our research proposes a robust and integrative approach to assess ecological and evolutionary variation across environmental gradients, applicable to bird species difficult to monitor and recapture.

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Poblete, Y., Gutiérrez, V., Cid, V. et al. Intraspecific variation in exploratory behavior and elevational affinity in a widely distributed songbird. Oecologia 186, 931–938 (2018).

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  • Exploratory behavior
  • Migration
  • Zonotrichia capensis
  • δ2H