University of Oulu

Ceresa, F., Vitulano, S., Pes, M., Tomasi, L., Brambilla, M., Kvist, L., Pedrini, P., Anderle, M., Hilpold, A. and Kranebitter, P. (2022), Variation in wing morphology is related to breeding environment in a high-elevation specialist bird. J Avian Biol, 2022: e03007.

Variation in wing morphology is related to breeding environment in a high-elevation specialist bird

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Author: Ceresa, Francesco1; Vitulano, Severino2; Pes, Michele1,3;
Organizations: 1Museum of Nature South Tyrol, Bolzano, Italy
2Studio Pteryx, Basiano, MI, Italy
3Museo delle Scienze, Sezione Zoologia dei Vertebrati, Trento, Italy
4Dipto di Scienze e Politiche Ambientali, Univ. degli Studi di Milano, Milano, Italia
5Univ. of Oulu, Ecology and Genetics Research Unit, Oulu, Finland
6Eurac Research, Inst. for Alpine Environment, Bolzano, Italy
7Dept of Ecology, Univ. of Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1.6 MB)
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Language: English
Published: John Wiley & Sons, 2022
Publish Date: 2022-10-14


The morphology of bird wings is subject to a variety of selective pressures, including migration, predation, habitat structure and sexual selection. Variation in wing morphology also occurs at the intraspecific and intrapopulation level, and can be related to sex, age, migration strategy and environmental factors. The relationship between environment and intraspecific variation in wing morphology is still poorly understood. In this work, we studied the relationship between wing morphology and breeding environment in a high-elevation specialist bird, the water pipit Anthus spinoletta. We calculated wing isometric size, pointedness and convexity of 84 birds mist-netted at breeding sites in year 2021 in the European Alps. We then searched for associations between these traits and potentially relevant breeding site characteristics (vegetation structure, elevation, latitude). For all wing traits, sex and one or more environmental factors best explained the variation, with environmental factors explaining between 3 and 8% of the variation. Wing size was negatively related to tree cover and wing convexity was negatively related to bush cover. Elevation contributed to explain variation in wing pointedness, but the direction of its effect was unclear. The negative relationship between wing size and tree cover could be due to intraspecific competition, i.e. to the relegation of smaller winged low-quality individuals in marginal grassland areas. Higher wing convexity could improve predator escape ability in areas with scarce protecting vegetation, with possible effects on habitat choice. These findings represent one of the few demonstrated cases of wing morphology–environment relationships at the intraspecific level.

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Series: Journal of avian biology
ISSN: 0908-8857
ISSN-E: 1600-048X
ISSN-L: 0908-8857
Volume: 2022
Issue: 11-12
Article number: e03007
DOI: 10.1111/jav.03007
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 1181 Ecology, evolutionary biology
Funding: The present study has been financed by the fund ‘Research Südtirol/Alto Adige' of the Department of Innovation, Research and University of the Autonomous Province of Bolzano/Bozen, within the project ‘Population connectivity in high-elevation Alpine birds threatened by climate change', CUP H32F20000020003. The authors thank the Dept of Innovation, Research, Univ. and Museums of the Autonomous Province of Bozen/Bolzano for covering the Open Access publication costs.
Dataset Reference: Supporting information:
Copyright information: © 2022 The Authors. Journal of Avian Biology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Nordic Society Oikos. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.