Variation in wing morphology results from the combination of diverse selection pressures. Wing feather morphology within species varies with sex and ontogenetic effects, and also with ecological factors. Yet, the direction of causation for the wing morphology–ecology association remains to be elucidated. Under the ‘ecology-dependence’ hypothesis, wing morphology covaries with ecological conditions, because the latter affect feather molt. Alternatively, the ‘habitat choice’ hypothesis posits that individuals with different wing morphology choose different habitats because of the habitat-dependent advantages of a specific wing morphology. We tested these competing hypotheses in the migratory, aerially insectivorous barn swallow (Hirundo rustica). We quantified wing morphology (isometric size, pointedness, and convexity) on the same individuals during consecutive breeding seasons (i.e., before and after molt in sub-Saharan wintering areas) and located wintering areas using light-level geolocators. Wing pointedness of females but not males during 1 year negatively correlated with vegetation vigor (gauged by the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index; NDVI) in the African area where individuals spent the next winter. Partial least-squares path modelling showed that the association between wing morphology and NDVI was sex-dependent. Conversely, NDVI during wintering did not predict wing morphology in the next breeding season. Because wing morphology can have carry-over effects on subsequent performance, we investigated selection on wing traits and found strong positive fecundity selection on wing size of females. Our results suggest that female barn swallows choose their wintering habitat depending on their wing morphology. In addition, directional fecundity selection operates on females, suggesting sex-dependence of current selection on the flight apparatus.
Oecologia – Springer Journals
Published: Jul 25, 2017
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