Sex promotes spatial and dietary segregation in a migratory shorebird during the non-breeding season

Teresa Catry, José A. Alves, Jennifer A. Gill, Tómas G. Gunnarsson, José P. Granadeiro

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33 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Several expressions of sexual segregation have been described in animals, especially in those exhibiting conspicuous dimorphism. Outside the breeding season, segregation has been mostly attributed to size or age-mediated dominance or to trophic niche divergence. Regardless of the recognized implications for population dynamics, the ecological causes and consequences of sexual segregation are still poorly understood. We investigate the foraging habits of a shorebird showing reversed sexual dimorphism, the black-tailed godwit Limosa limosa, during the winter season, and found extensive segregation between sexes in spatial distribution, microhabitat use and dietary composition. Males and females exhibited high site-fidelity but differed in their distributions at estuary-scale. Male godwits (shorter-billed) foraged more frequently in exposed mudflats than in patches with higher water levels, and consumed more bivalves and gastropods and fewer polychaetes than females. Females tended to be more frequently involved and to win more aggressive interactions than males. However, the number of aggressions recorded was low, suggesting that sexual dominance plays a lesser role in segregation, although its importance cannot be ruled out. Dimorphism in the feeding apparatus has been used to explain sex differences in foraging ecology and behaviour of many avian species, but few studies confirmed that morphologic characteristics drive individual differences within each sex. We found a relationship between resource use and bill size when pooling data from males and females. However, this relationship did not hold for either sex separately, suggesting that differences in foraging habits of godwits are primarily a function of sex, rather than bill size. Hence, the exact mechanisms through which this segregation operates are still unknown. The recorded differences in spatial distribution and resource use might expose male and female to distinct threats, thus affecting population dynamics through differential mortality. Therefore, population models and effective conservation strategies should increasingly take sex-specific requirements into consideration.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere33811
JournalPLoS One
Volume7
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 30 Mar 2012

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