Date of this Version
Hannebaum, S. L., M. B. Brown, and C. R. Brown. 2019. Ecological correlates of group integrity among dispersing cliff swallows. Ecosphere 10(10):e02913. 10.1002/ecs2.2913
Breeding colonies of birds represent groups of individuals that associate during one breeding season, at least partially dissociate for the non-breeding season, and may re-associate the next year through collective settlement at another breeding site. Little is known about the extent to which colonial birds maintain group integrity when occupying different sites in different years or the benefits of long-term associations among colonial individuals. For cliff swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) in western Nebraska, USA, we examined ecological correlates and potential benefits associated with group integrity. Using a dataset of over 25,000 individuals, we found that associations between dispersing cliff swallows were greater than would be predicted by purely random settlement among colony sites. The extent of group integrity varied widely among sites, with birds seeming to settle together more often at sites with fewer ectoparasites and at colonies similar in size and closer in physical proximity to the one they had previously occupied. Some associations of birds lasted three years in which they used a different site each year. Successful colonies had higher levels of group integrity among their settlers than did colonies that failed completely. Cliff swallows that were known to have settled with at least one conspecific from the previous year’s site had a higher survival the next year than those not known to have settled with past residents. The results are consistent with cliff swallows choosing colonies based in part on parasite load and with sorting among colonies based on the birds’ preferences for colonies of certain sizes.