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Differential migration of chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita and P. ibericus in Europe and Africa

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Differential migration is a widespread, but poorly understood, phenomenon in birds. In this paper, we present the first detailed field study of differential migration in the Old World warbler (Sylviidae) family. We studied two chiffchaff Phylloscopus [collybita] semispecies: the common chiffchaff P. [c.] collybita and the Iberian chiffchaff P. [c.] ibericus. Using data collected at several latitudes in Europe and Africa, we present convincing evidence for differential distance migration of sexes in chiffchaffs, with females moving further than males. Interestingly, while there was a pronounced gradient in the sex-ratios in Europe and North Africa (with an increasing proportion of females with declining latitude), no clear pattern was found south of the Sahara, where sex-ratios were more male-biased than predicted by a simple latitude model. This suggests that, amongst the chiffchaffs wintering in West Africa, a large proportion is composed by Iberian birds, and provides support to previous suggestions that Iberian chiffchaffs are long distance migrants. Results from detailed studies in Senegal also show that chiffchaffs display differential timing of spring migration, with males leaving the winter quarters considerably earlier than females. The results are discussed in the framework of the three main (non-mutually exclusive) hypotheses attempting to explain the latitudinal segregation of the sexes. Given the relative failure of standard comparative studies to discriminate between competing single-factor hypotheses to explain differential migration, it is argued that the chiffchaff species complex might be particularly suited to study this issue using a new approach suggested by Cristol et al. (1999): detailed (further) comparisons between closely related species (such as the common and the Iberian chiffchaffs) could help identifying the key factors to be incorporated into optimality models that can predict relative distance of migration of different sex or age classes.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 May 2005

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