Habitat use and body mass regulation among warblers in the Sahel region during the non-breeding season

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Abstract

Migratory birds face significant challenges across their annual cycle, including occupying an appropriate non-breeding home range with sufficient foraging resources. This can affect demographic processes such as over-winter survival, migration mortality and subsequent breeding success. In the Sahel region of Africa, where millions of migratory songbirds attempt to survive the winter, some species of insectivorous warblers occupy both wetland and dry-scrubland habitats, whereas other species are wetland or dry-scrubland specialists. In this study we examine evidence for strategic regulation of body reserves and competition-driven habitat selection, by comparing invertebrate prey activity-density, warbler body size and extent of fat and pectoral muscle deposits, in each habitat type during the nonbreeding season. Invertebrate activity-density was substantially higher in wetland habitats than in dry-scrubland. Eurasian reed warblers Acrocephalus scirpaceus occupying wetland habitats maintained lower body reserves than conspecifics occupying dry-scrub habitats, consistent with buffering of reserves against starvation in food-poor habitat. A similar, but smaller, difference in body reserves between wet and dry habitat was found among subalpine warblers Sylvia cantillans but not in chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita inhabiting dry-scrub and scrub fringing wetlands. Body reserves were relatively low among habitat specialist species; resident African reed warbler A. baeticatus and migratory sedge warbler A. schoenobaenus exclusively occupying wetland habitats, and Western olivaceous warblers Iduna opaca exclusively occupying dry habitats. These results suggest that specialists in preferred habitats and generalists occupying prey-rich habitats can reduce body reserves, whereas generalists occupying prey-poor habitats carry an increased level of body reserves as a strategic buffer against starvation. Copyright:

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Vafidis, J. O., Vaughan, I. P., Jones, T. H., Facey, R. J., Parry, R., & Thomas, R. J. (2014). Habitat use and body mass regulation among warblers in the Sahel region during the non-breeding season. PLoS ONE, 9(11). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0113665

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