Differentiation of subspecies and sexes of Beringian Dunlins using morphometric measures

Five subspecies of Dunlins (Calidris alpina) that breed in Beringia are potentially sympatric during the non-breeding season. Studying their ecology during this period requires techniques to distinguish individuals by subspecies. Our objectives were to determine (1) if five morphometric measures (body mass, culmen, head, tarsus, and wing chord) differed between sexes and among subspecies (C. a. actites, arcticola, kistchinski, pacifica, and sakhalina), and (2) if these differences were sufficient to allow for correct classification of individuals using equations derived from discriminant function analyses. We conducted analyses using morphometric data from 10 Dunlin populations breeding in northern Russia and Alaska, USA. Univariate tests revealed significant differences between sexes in most morphometric traits of all subspecies, and discriminant function equations predicted the sex of individuals with an accuracy of 83–100% for each subspecies. We provide equations to determine sex and subspecies of individuals in mixed subspecies groups, including the (1) Western Alaska group of arcticola and pacifica (known to stage together in western Alaska) and (2) East Asia group of arcticola, actites, kistchinski, and sakhalina (known to winter together in East Asia). Equations that predict the sex of individuals in mixed groups had classification accuracies between 75% and 87%, yielding reliable classification equations. We also provide equations that predict the subspecies of individuals with an accuracy of 22–96% for different mixed subspecies groups. When the sex of individuals can be predetermined, the accuracy of these equations is increased substantially. Investigators are cautioned to consider limitations due to age and feather wear when using these equations during the nonbreeding season. These equations will allow determination of sexual and subspecies segregation in non-breeding areas, allowing implementation of taxonomic-specific conservation actions.

Gates, H. R., S. Yezerinac, A. M. Powell, P. S. Tomkovich, O. P. Valchuk, and R. B. Lanctot. 2013. Differentiation of subspecies and sexes of Beringian Dunlins using morphometric measures. Journal of Field Ornithology 84: 389–402. <DOI:10.1111/jofo.12037>

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