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Foraging habitat and diet of Song Sparrows (Melospiza melodia) nesting in farmland: a stable isotope approach

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Abstract:

Agricultural intensification has been linked to declines in farmland and grassland bird populations in Europe and in North America. One factor thought to be behind these declines is reduced invertebrate food abundance in the breeding season, leading to reduced reproductive success. However, little is known about foraging habitat or diet of farmland birds in North America. We used stable isotopes to study foraging habitat and diet of Song Sparrows (Melospiza melodia (A. Wilson, 1810)), a common hedgerow-breeding bird, by collecting claw clippings of Song Sparrow nestlings from farms in eastern Ontario, Canada. Mean values of δ13C and δ15N were compared between claws and invertebrate food sources from adjacent land-cover types, using a Bayesian mixing model. The portion of nestling diet that came from seminatural and forage habitats was higher than expected, based on the proportion of seminatural and forage cover at the nest. This was particularly evident at nests with low seminatural cover, where hedgerows were the only noncrop habitat. The most important food sources for Song Sparrow nestlings were hoppers (Auchenorrhyncha) and caterpillars (Lepidoptera). Management actions to increase invertebrate abundance in hedgerows may benefit Song Sparrows and other farmland birds with minimal impact on crop yield.

Keywords: Melospiza melodia; Song Sparrow; agriculture; azote; bruant chanteur; carbon; carbone; claw; griffe; haie; hedgerow; isotope stable; nitrogen; stable isotope

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1139/z2012-103

Affiliations: 1: National Wildlife Research Centre, Science and Technology Branch, Environment Canada, Carleton University, Ottawa, ON K1A 0H3, Canada. 2: Geomatics and Landscape Ecology Research Laboratory, Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa, ON K1S 5B6, Canada.

Publication date: November 19, 2012

More about this publication?
  • 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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