TitleLife-history and phenotypic traits of insectivorous songbirds breeding on reclaimed mine land reveal ecological constraints.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsO'Brien, EL, Dawson, RD
JournalSci Total Environ
Date Published2016 May 15
KeywordsAnimals, Canada, Diet, Environmental Monitoring, Environmental Restoration and Remediation, Mining, Phenotype, Songbirds, Swallows

Studies assessing impacts of industrial activities on wildlife typically examine population- or community-level responses. However, changes in measures such as species abundance or diversity are driven by cumulative responses of individuals to disturbance, and may take time to detect. Quantifying individual responses could allow us to foresee and mitigate future population declines resulting from industrial activities, while providing ecologically informative indices to assess quality of reclaimed land. We examined life-history and phenotypic traits of mountain bluebirds (Sialia currucoides) and tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) breeding on reclaimed copper mine lands in Canada over two years in comparison to a nearby undisturbed reference area. Bluebirds feed on terrestrial invertebrates, whereas swallows feed on adult forms of insects with aquatic larvae, allowing us to assess quality of both reclaimed terrestrial and aquatic systems as habitat for insectivorous birds. Supplemental feeding of bluebirds also was used to experimentally assess nutritional limitation of birds feeding on terrestrial invertebrates. Bluebirds on reclaimed land initiated clutches later, and in one year had lower fledging success compared to birds on the reference area. Tree swallows also bred later in the season on reclaimed land, but were otherwise comparable to or exceeded performance of birds on the reference area. Annual differences in responses of nestling bluebirds on the mine to supplemental feeding revealed an apparent switch in life-history strategy of parents between years, from brood reduction to brood survival, suggesting greater annual fluctuations in ecological conditions within terrestrial systems on reclaimed land. Sex differences in response of nestling bluebirds to food supplementation additionally suggested high within-brood competition for food on reclaimed land. We suggest that measures of avian life-history and phenotypic traits, particularly when assessed over multiple years using experimental approaches such as food supplementation, are informative and sensitive indices of the health of reclaimed terrestrial and aquatic systems.

Alternate JournalSci Total Environ
PubMed ID26930317