Deakin University
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Ecological and environmental predictors of escape among birds on a large tropical island

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Version 2 2024-06-05, 07:35
Version 1 2022-02-28, 08:52
journal contribution
posted on 2024-06-05, 07:35 authored by KB Ekanayake, JJ Gnanapragasam, K Ranawana, DR Vidanapathirana, UT Abeyawardhana, C Fernando, Alexandra McQueenAlexandra McQueen, Mike WestonMike Weston, Matthew SymondsMatthew Symonds
Abstract Ecological and environmental traits can influence avian escape behaviour but most data underpinning our current understanding relates to continental and temperate areas and species. We conducted a phylogenetically controlled comparative analysis of flight-initiation distance (FID) against a variety of environmental, behavioural and life history attributes for Sri Lankan birds (202 species; n = 2540). As with other studies, body mass was positively associated with FID, and longer FIDs occurred in areas where human population density was lower. We also found that the effect of human population density was more pronounced in larger birds. Birds that were in groups when approached tended to have longer FIDs. Unlike the findings of other comparative analyses, based mostly on continental, temperate populations, most other ecological variables did not feature in the best models predicting FID (time of year, breeding system, clutch size, habitat, migratory behaviour, development [altricial/precocial], elevation and diet). Thus, some associations (body mass and exposure to humans) may be universal, while others may not manifest themselves among tropical avifaunas. Further tropical datasets are required to confirm truly universal associations of environmental and ecological attributes and escape distances among birds. Significance statement Escape responses in birds are influenced by the environment in which they live, the conditions under which they face a threat and their own biological characteristics. The vast majority of our knowledge of avian escape behaviour is derived from continental, temperate species. We examined the environmental and ecological factors that shape flight-initiation distance (FID), the distance at which a bird reacts to an approaching threat (a walking human) by escaping, using 2540 observations of 202 bird species on a large tropical island—Sri Lanka. Several predictors of FIDs in birds are clearly influential for Sri Lankan birds: body mass, human population density and whether the bird is alone or in as group. However, many other putative predictors are not, suggesting that tropical island avifaunas may have different responses to approaching threats compared to their temperate continental counterparts.



Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology



Article number





Berlin, Germany

Open access

  • Yes







Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal