Many bird species show spatial or habitat segregation of the sexes during the non-breeding season. One potential ecological explanation is that differences in bill morphology favour foraging niche specialisation and segregation. Western sandpipers Calidris mauri have pronounced bill size dimorphism, with female bills averaging 15% longer than those of males. The sexes differ in foraging behaviour and exhibit partial latitudinal segregation during the non-breeding season, with males predominant in the north and females in the south. Niche specialisation at a local scale might account for this broad geographic pattern, and we investigated whether longer-billed females and shorter-billed males occupy different foraging niches at 16 sites across the non-breeding range. We used stable-nitrogen (δ15N) isotope analysis of whole blood to test for dietary specialisation according to bill length and sex. Stable-nitrogen isotope ratios increase with trophic level. We predicted that δ15N values would increase with bill length and would be higher for females, which use a greater proportion of foraging behaviour that targets higher-trophic level prey. We used stable-carbon (δ13C) isotope analysis to test for habitat segregation according to bill length and sex. Stable-carbon isotope ratios vary between marine- and freshwater-influenced habitats. We predicted that δ13C values would differ between males and females if the sexes segregate between habitat types. Using a model selection approach, we found little support for a relationship between δ15N and either bill length or sex. There was some indication, however, that more marine δ13C values occur with shorter bill lengths. Our findings provide little evidence that male and female western sandpipers exhibit dietary specialisation as a function of their bill size, but indicate that the sexes may segregate in different habitats according to bill length at some non-breeding sites. Potential ecological factors underlying habitat segregation between sexes include differences in preferred habitat type and predation risk.
Franks SE, Fernández G, Hodkinson DJ, Kyser TK, Lank DB (2013) The Long and the Short of It: No Dietary Specialisation between Male and Female Western Sandpipers Despite Strong Bill Size Dimorphism. PLoS ONE 8(11): e79835. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0079835
The Long and the Short of It: No Dietary Specialisation between Male and Female Western Sandpipers Despite Strong Bill Size Dimorphism
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Funder: American Ornithologists’ Union
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