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Does day length affect winter bird distribution? Testing the role of an elusive variable

AutorCarrascal, Luis M.; Santos, Tomás; Tellería, José L.
Fecha de publicación29-feb-2012
EditorPublic Library of Science
CitaciónPLoS ONE 7(2): e32733 (2012)
ResumenDifferences in day length may act as a critical factor in bird biology by introducing time constraints in energy acquisition during winter. Thus, differences in day length might operate as a main determinant of bird abundance along latitudinal gradients. This work examines the influence of day length on the abundance of wintering crested tits (Lophophanes cristatus) in 26 localities of Spanish juniper (Juniperus thurifera) dwarf woodlands (average height of 5 m) located along a latitudinal gradient in the Spanish highlands, while controlling for the influence of food availability, minimum night temperature, habitat structure and landscape characteristics. Top regression models in the AIC framework explained 56% of variance in bird numbers. All models incorporated day length as the variable with the highest magnitude effect. Food availability also played an important role, although only the crop of ripe juniper fruits, but not arthropods, positively affected crested tit abundance. Differences in vegetation structure across localities had also a strong positive effect (average tree height and juniper tree density). Geographical variation in night temperature had no influence on crested tit distribution, despite the low winter temperatures reached in these dwarf forests. This paper demonstrates for the first time that winter bird abundance increases with day length after controlling for the effect of other environmental variables. Winter average difference in day length was only 10.5 minutes per day along the 1°47′ latitudinal interval (190 km) included in this study. This amount of time, which reaches 13.5 h accumulated throughout the winter season, appears to be large enough to affect the long-term energy budget of small passerines during winter and to shape the distribution of winter bird abundance under restrictive environmental conditions.
Versión del editorhttp://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0032733
URIhttp://hdl.handle.net/10261/127763
DOI10.1371/journal.pone.0032733
ISSN1932-6203
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