Rainfall and habitat interact to affect the condition of a wintering migratory songbird in The Bahamas
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Ecology and Evolution
On the subtropical and tropical wintering grounds of migratory birds, variation in moisture levels and habitat can influence the availability of food resources and subsequently impact overwintering birds. Using stable carbon isotopes in blood samples as a measure of moisture, we assessed the interactive effects of rainfall, vegetation, and moisture on the demographics and condition of Prairie Warblers (Setophaga discolor) wintering in The Bahamas. Carbon isotopes in Prairie Warbler blood were more depleted in taller, wetter habitats; we additionally detected novel temporal effects of rainfall on isotope values. During a winter with more rainfall, most birds maintained mass and pectoral muscle regardless of the habitat type occupied. In a winter with less rainfall, birds lost mass and pectoral muscle, and this effect was more pronounced in birds with enriched isotope values and birds that occupied drier, shorter habitat. Prairie Warblers exhibited strong patterns of sexual habitat segregation with males disproportionately observed in areas with taller vegetation and females in shorter vegetation. During the drier winter, older males had better maintenance of pectoral muscle compared to females and younger individuals. Also in the drier winter, daily rainfall patterns explained more of the variation in body condition compared to the date of capture; pectoral muscle was best explained by recent precipitation (during the previous 30 days), while size‐corrected mass was more a function of longer‐term (90‐day) rainfall and habitat moisture. Our findings along with other studies suggest that Prairie Warblers and other migratory birds are sensitive to interactions between annual variation in winter rainfall, within‐season daily rainfall patterns, and habitat quality. Increasing drought and habitat loss in the Caribbean may be having a negative impact on wintering bird populations. To best conserve Nearctic–Neotropical migratory passerines in the region, we recommend prioritizing the protection of the least drought‐prone wintering areas.
Keywordsclimate change; nonbreeding; Prairie Warbler; precipitation; sex ratios; stable isotopes
Akresh, Michael E.; King, David I.; Marra, Peter P. 2019. Rainfall and habitat interact to affect the condition of a wintering migratory songbird in The Bahamas. Ecology and Evolution. 9(14): 8042-8061. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.5359.