Island life shapes the physiology and life history of eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis)

K.D. Matson, R.A. Mauck, S.E. Lynn, B.I. Tieleman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Abstract Island organisms face a range of extrinsic threats to their characteristically small populations. Certain biological differences between island and continental organisms have the potential to exacerbate these threats. Understanding how island birds differ from their continental relatives may provide insight into population viability and serve as a predictive tool for conservation efforts. We compared an eastern bluebird population in Ohio with a threatened population in Bermuda in terms of the birds' development, morphology, immunology, and reproduction. These comparisons revealed that island nestlings had shorter wings and island adults had longer wings than their continental analogs. Island nestlings also had shorter tarsi than continental nestlings at day 8 posthatch, but this difference was absent at day 15 and in adults. Adults weighed less in Bermuda than in Ohio, and both nestlings and adults in Bermuda exhibited higher levels of two immunological indexes (concentrations of an acute-phase protein and titers of nonspecific antibodies). Clutch sizes and hatch rates did not differ between the island and continental populations; however, as the breeding season progressed, brood sizes declined in Bermuda, whereas no such decline occurred in Ohio. Despite these differences and differences in nestling development, island and continental parents fed their nestlings at equal rates. Overall, our results suggest that the Bermuda phenotype may be adjusted to certain aspects of the island environment but not to others. Efforts to conserve the bluebirds of Bermuda may be improved by focusing on the intraseasonal patterns in nestling mortality and, more generally, the survival probabilities of different age classes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)172-182
JournalPhysiological and Biochemical Zoology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • body-size
  • immune-response
  • birds
  • populations
  • conservation
  • biodiversity
  • haptoglobin
  • extinction
  • trends
  • growth

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