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Environmental and geographical constraints on common swift and barn swallow spring arrival patterns throughout the Iberian Peninsula

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Abstract Aim 

Still poorly understood, the main migratory pathways for most trans-Saharan species pass through the Iberian Peninsula, which acts as a gateway to the European–African migratory system. Arrival patterns in this region for the common swift (Apus apus) and barn swallow (Hirundo rustica), of similar morphology and flight capabilities, were described, and the environmental and geographical factors best explaining them were examined, in a search for common ecological constraints on these two migratory species. Location 

Latitude ranged from 36.02 to 43.68°N, longitude from 9.05°W to 3.17°E, and altitude from 0 to 1595 m a.s.l. for 482 common swift and 812 barn swallow Spanish localities spread widely over the Iberian breeding grounds of the two species. Methods 

Our data set, covering the years 1960–1990, consisted of 3206 first-arrival dates for common swifts and 6036 for barn swallows. Forty topographical, climatic, river basin, geographical and spatial variables were used as explanatory variables in general regression models (GRMs). GRMs included polynomial terms up to cubic functions in all variables when they were significant. A backward stepwise selection procedure was applied in all models until only significant terms remained. GRMs were applied in two steps. First, we searched for the best model in each one of the five types of variables (topographical, climatic, river basin, geographical and spatial). To cope with the unavoidable correlation between explanatory variables, the relative importance of each type of variable was assessed by hierarchical variance partitioning. Secondly, we searched for that model able to explain the maximum amount of the observed variability in arrival date. To obtain this model all significant explanatory variables were subjected jointly to a GRM. Spatial variables were then added to this model to take any remaining spatial structure in the data into account. Moran's I autocorrelation coefficient was used to check for spatial autocorrelation. Results 

Both species arrived earlier in the south-western Iberian Peninsula, where summers are warmer and drier. From there, both species followed the main southern Iberian river basins towards the north-east; however, several mountainous regions impede the colonization of eastern Iberia. The best models for each type of variable explained 19–47% of the variability in common swift arrival dates and 14–44% in barn swallow arrival dates. Variance partitioning indicated that climatic and geographical variables best explained variability. The best predictive models built with all variables accounted for 52% of the variability in common swift arrival dates and 50% for the barn swallow. Residuals from both models were not spatially autocorrelated, an indication that all major spatially structured variation had been accounted for. Main conclusions 

Spring arrival patterns are highly dependent on the geographical configuration of the Iberian Peninsula. This spatial constraint forces both species to converge very closely in their spring migration, because common swifts and barn swallows are subject to a trade-off between optimum migratory pathways and territories ecologically suitable for breeding.
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Keywords: Apus apus; Hirundo rustica; Spain; arrival date; bird migration; geographical patterns; modelling; phenology

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Departamento de Ecología Evolutiva, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (CSIC), C/José Gutiérrez Abascal 2, E-28006 Madrid, Spain 2: Departamento de Biodiversidad y Biología Evolutiva, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (CSIC), C/José Gutiérrez Abascal 2, E-28006 Madrid, Spain

Publication date: 2007-06-01

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