Forest fragmentation and body condition in wintering black-capped chickadees

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Abstract:

Winter represents a critical energy management challenge for northern birds. Subzero temperatures may persist almost without interruption for months, food supply steadily decreases, day length greatly limits time available for foraging, and they must endure long fasting at night. Body condition represents a potentially important concept to our understanding of how severe winters impact individual fitness and populations. Many researchers have addressed body condition in small wintering birds. However, studies published so far have rarely been placed into a landscape context, despite reported effects of landscape structure on the ecology of birds exposed to severe winters. We investigated whether forest cover affects body condition in a population of black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus (L., 1766)) during winter. We measured residual body mass, fat score, and rate of growth of induced feathers to assess body condition in 12 landscapes with forest cover ranging from 10% to 87%. Forest cover was not associated with any of these measures of body condition, suggesting that highly deforested and fragmented landscapes were not energetically more costly to chickadees. However, we may not rule out the possibility that this result was biased against by a higher emigration or mortality rate of individuals in poor body condition.

L’hiver constitue un défi important pour la gestion de l’énergie chez les oiseaux des régions nordiques. Le gel peut persister pendant des mois presque sans interruption, les sources de nourriture s’amenuisent constamment, la durée du jour restreint le temps pouvant être consacré à la quête alimentaire et les oiseaux doivent survivre aux longs jeûnes nocturnes. La condition corporelle des oiseaux représente un concept potentiellement utile à notre compréhension des impacts des hivers rigoureux sur la fitness individuelle et sur la dynamique des populations. Plusieurs études se sont intéressées à la condition des oiseaux de petite taille en hiver. L’étude de la condition des oiseaux pendant l’hiver n’a pas encore été placée dans le contexte du paysage, même si on a montré que le paysage a un effet sur l’écologie des oiseaux exposés à un hiver rigoureux. Le but de notre étude était de vérifier si le couvert forestier avait un effet sur la condition énergétique d’une population de mésanges à tête noire (Poecile atricapillus (L., 1766)) pendant l’hiver. Nous avons évalué la masse corporelle résiduelle, la cote de gras furculaire et la croissance de plumes d’individus provenant de 12 paysages dont le couvert forestier variait de 10 % à 87 %. Le couvert forestier n’a eu d’effet sur aucune des mesures de la condition des individus, ce qui laisse supposer que les paysages sévèrement déboisés et fragmentés ne sont pas énergétiquement désavantageux pour les oiseaux. Cependant, nous devons aussi considérer que ce résultat pourrait découler d’un taux d’immigration ou de mortalité plus élevé parmi les individus en moins bonne condition.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2008

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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