We used stable hydrogen isotopes (?D) to investigate both temporal and spatial patterns during spring migration for three warbler species, Wilson's Warbler (Wilsonia pusilla), MacGillivray's Warbler (Oporornis tolmiei), and Nashville Warbler (Vermivora ruficapilla), across multiple migration routes in southwest North America. A strong correlation between stable hydrogen isotope values of feathers and the local precipitation at sites where feathers where collected across the breeding range for all three species reaffirmed that stable hydrogen isotopes were a good predictor of breeding locations. For the Wilson's Warbler, we found a significant negative relationship between the date when warblers passed through the sampling station and ?D values of their feathers, indicating that warblers who bred the previous season at southern latitudes migrated through the migration stations earlier than did warblers that had previously bred at more northern latitudes. This pattern was consistent across their southwestern migration route (5 sites sampled) and was consistent between years. Comparing ?D values between migration stations also showed a shift towards more negative ?D values from the western to the eastern migration stations sampled in this study, which corresponded to different geographical regions of the Wilson's Warblers' western breeding range. For MacGillivray's Warbler we found the same temporal pattern as Wilson's Warbler, with warblers that bred the previous season at southern latitudes migrating through the migration stations earlier than warblers that had previously bred at more northern latitudes. This pattern was consistent at the Lower Colorado River and Arivaca Creek, the two sites where sample sizes were adequate to test these hypotheses. Comparison of the ?D between the two sites indicated that the majority of warblers migrating through these stations were breeding within a geographically limited area of MacGillivray's Warblers' overall breeding range. This is in contrast to the larger range of ?D values for Wilson's Warblers at these two sites, which corresponded to a broader area across their breeding range. Feathers were also collected across MacGillivray's Warblers' wintering range, and stable hydrogen isotope analysis indicated a significant positive relationship with wintering latitude. Because the ?D value of MacGillivray's Warblers' feathers reflects the ?D value of their breeding locations, with more negative values representing more northerly breeding latitudes, this positive relationship between feather ?D and wintering latitude indicated that warblers wintering at more southern latitudes bred at more northern latitudes. This supports a leapfrog migration system for MacGillivray's Warblers and is the first documentation of such a pattern. We did not find a temporal pattern to the spring migration of Nashville Warblers. This lack of temporal pattern could be due to the reduced size of the breeding and wintering ranges of Nashville Warblers, both of which could decrease the advantages of a temporal migration pattern. A small population of Nashville Warblers also breeds on the California coast and the sporadic nature of migration for Nashville Warblers in the southwest suggests that in some years more Nashville Warblers may winter along the California coast. The information in this study has increased our understanding of both spatial and temporal patterns of migration for three neotropical migrant birds and has important implications for understanding the ecology and evolution of migrants and factors influencing overall population dynamics.
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Spatial and Temporal Migration Patterns of Neotropical Migrants in the Southwest Revealed by Stable Isotopes