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Parrot claylick distribution in South America: do patterns of “where” help answer the question “why”?

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Geophagy is well known among some Neotropical parrots. The clay apparently adsorbs dietary toxins and/or provides supplemental nutrients. We used location data and 23 environmental layers to develop a predictive model of claylick distribution using Maxent software. We related species characteristics to claylick use and examined how parrot assemblages using claylicks changed with distance from the centre of claylick distribution. Fifty-two parrot claylicks were reported from an area of ca 4 million km2 but over 50% were restricted to a 35 000 km2 region of southeast Peru and northern Bolivia. Claylicks were strongly associated with moist forest on younger (<65 millions of yr) geological formations and exposed river banks. The predictive model of claylick distribution matched our reported range well, with precipitation of warmest quarter, land cover, temperature seasonality, and distance from the ocean being most important predictors of claylick presence. Twenty-six of the region's 46 parrot species visited claylicks. Species differed greatly in their lick use, but body size, dietary breadth, abundance and other traits were poor predictors of lick use. We are confident that our survey identified the distribution of major parrot claylicks in South America, although less conspicuous parrot geophagy may occur elsewhere. We suggest that claylick distribution reflects both underlying geology (allowing claylick formation in only some regions) and the physiological need for geophagy among parrots in different parts of the continent. Data on the latter are inconclusive, but we argue that parrot claylick distribution supports the contention that geophagy is related more to sodium deficiencies than to protection from dietary toxins.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2010

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