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Dietary segregation between two cohabiting species of sparrows revealed with stable isotope analysis

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Fox Sparrows (Passerella iliaca (Merrem, 1786)) and Song Sparrows (Melospiza melodia (A. Wilson, 1810)) cohabit on many islands along the Pacific coast of North America, and previous studies suggest that they rely on similar prey types. We used δ13C and δ15N stable isotope analysis on blood collected from breeding adults of both species in each of two habitats on Triangle Island, British Columbia, Canada, to test the hypothesis that the two species exhibit a consistent pattern (direction) of dietary segregation in different habitat types. Both δ13C and especially δ15N values differed between habitats, indicating that the two habitats were isotopically distinct. As predicted, δ15N values differed consistently between the two species in the two habitats, averaging ∼1.5‰ higher in the smaller Song Sparrow than in the larger Fox Sparrow in both. We infer that Song Sparrows included more animal matter and less plant matter in their diets than Fox Sparrows, and suggest that fixed traits related to body size might underlie the dietary (trophic) differences. In contrast, δ13C values did not differ between species. We conclude that dietary segregation could help to facilitate the widespread cohabitation of these two species of sparrows.

Keywords: Fox Sparrow; Melospiza melodia; Passerella iliaca; Song Sparrow; bruant chanteur; bruant fauve; cohabitation; dietary segregation; isotopes stables; stable isotopes; ségrégation alimentaire

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Lund University, Ecology Building, Sölvegatan 37, SE 223 62 Lund, Sweden. 2: Ecorana Environmental limited. 3601 Hilcrest Avenue, North Vancouver, BC V7R 4B7, Canada.

Publication date: 2013-01-01

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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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