Change in Migratory Behavior as a Possible Explanation for Burrowing Owl Population Declines in Northern Latitudes
AdvisorConway, Courtney J.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractRecent observed changes in bird distributions provide an unprecedented opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the processes that influence species' persistence. By modelling presence-absence data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey, we found evidence that the breeding range of the western burrowing owl has contracted at its northern, western, and eastern boundaries since 1967. We suggest that the species' breeding distribution is also expanding southwards to former wintering grounds into northern Mexico, facilitated by the appearance of new breeding habitat created by irrigated agriculture in the arid areas of southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. This dissertation explores the hypothesis that burrowing owls from northern migratory populations have become resident breeders in areas of northwestern Mexico that were formerly used only by migratory owls during winter, contributing to both population declines near the northern extent of the species' breeding range and population increases in the southern half of the species' range. We used novel DNA microsatellite markers to test patterns of gene flow predicted by this migration-mediated range-shift hypothesis. We genotyped 1,560 owls from 36 study locations in Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Analyses of molecular variance provided evidence that burrowing owl populations in both northwestern Mexico and Canada are genetically different from the rest of the populations in the breeding range, lending some support to the migration-mediated range-shift hypothesis. We found evidence of subtle genetic differentiation associated with subtropical irrigated agricultural areas in southern Sonora and Sinaloa, demonstrating that land use can produce location-specific population dynamics leading to genetic structure even in the absence of dispersal barriers. We also used stable isotopes 2/H, 13/C, and 15/N in feathers to test philopatry and breeding dispersal patterns predicted by this migration-mediated range-shift hypothesis. Burrowing owl populations near the northern edge of the species' breeding range had a high proportion of immigrants compared to interior populations, while other populations had high levels of philopatry. Stable isotopes also provided evidence of breeding dispersal events from Canadian populations to northwestern Mexico in support of the migration-mediated range-shift hypothesis, but similar isotope signatures in nestling feathers between these two regions prevent stronger inferences.
Degree ProgramGraduate College