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Am Nat. 2013 Mar;181(3):E53-9. doi: 10.1086/669152. Epub 2013 Jan 18.

Are mixed-species bird flocks stable through two decades?

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Department of Biological Sciences and Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611, USA.


The stability of tropical systems has been hypothesized to explain the evolution of complex behavioral interactions among species. We evaluate the degree to which one highly evolved social system, mixed-species flocks, are stable in space and time in French Guiana, where flocks were characterized 17 years apart. These flocks are led by alarm-calling "sentinels," which may benefit from food flushed by other "beater" species. Using null models, we found that flock roost sites, home range overlap, and composition were more similar than expected by chance; home ranges were nearly identical between the two time periods. Such extremely stable conditions may be essential for the evolution and maintenance of the sentinel-beater system that appears to characterize some flocks. These results may reflect an evolutionarily stable strategy among potentially interdependent species within mixed-species flocks, where home ranges contribute to stability by being far larger than the most common local disturbances in the forest.

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