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Solving a Migration Riddle Using Isoscapes: House Martins from a Dutch Village Winter over West Africa
Hobson, K.A.; Van Wilgenburg, S.L.; Piersma, T.; Wassenaar, L.I. (2012). Solving a Migration Riddle Using Isoscapes: House Martins from a Dutch Village Winter over West Africa. PLoS One 7(9): e45005. dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0045005
In: PLoS One. Public Library of Science: San Francisco. ISSN 1932-6203, more
Peer reviewed article  

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  • Hobson, K.A.
  • Van Wilgenburg, S.L.
  • Piersma, T., more
  • Wassenaar, L.I.

Abstract
    Background: The ability to connect breeding, stopover and wintering locations of populations of migratory birds greatly enhances our understanding of the phenomenon of migration and improves our chances of effectively conserving these species. Among Palearctic-Afrotropical migratory species, aerial insectivores like the house martin (Delichon urbicum) are sensitive to factors influencing the availability of flying insects, and have declined in recent decades. The strict aerial behaviour of martins severely limits ring recoveries on wintering grounds and so there is a dearth of information on where European breeding populations over-winter in Africa, and the relative effects of population regulation on breeding vs. wintering grounds. We used a newly developed multi-isotope (delta H-2, delta C-13, delta N-15) feather isoscape for Africa together with inferences from summarized ring return data based on longitude, to assign winter origins to birds captured at a breeding colony in The Netherlands.
    Principal Findings: Based on isotopic analyses of winter-grown martin feathers, we used a likelihood-based assignment approach to describe potential wintering locations where molt occurred of individual house martins from a Dutch colony by assigning them to four potential isotopically distinct clusters in Africa. We found the overwhelming majority of Dutch martins were assigned to a geographical cluster associated with West Africa.
    Conclusions/Significance: The existence of strong isotopic gradients and patterns in African foodwebs that support migratory wildlife allows for the spatial assignment of tissues grown there. The assignment of Dutch house martins to wintering grounds primarily in West Africa was in strong agreement with independent and indirect methods used to infer winter origins of this species based on the association between the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) in Africa and population patterns in Italy and the United Kingdom. These confirmatory data-sets underscore the importance of suitable habitats in West Africa to the conservation of migratory aerial insectivores and other species.

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