Size, shape and sex differences in three subspecies of Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa

Bing-Run Zhu, Chris J. Hassell, Yvonne I. Verkuil, Tomas G. Gunnarson, Jos C. E. W. Hooijmeijer, Zhengwang Zhang*, Theunis Piersma

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
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Capsule: Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa show sexual size dimorphism and size differences between the subspecies. The shape varies slightly between the subspecies, but not between the sexes. Aims: To investigate whether and how the three subspecies of Black-tailed Godwits, and the sexes of these subspecies, differ in size and shape. Methods: We collected body dimensions (lengths of the bill, total head, tarsus, tarsus-toe and wing) of adult Black-tailed Godwits from three locations (Iceland, the Netherlands and northwest Australia) corresponding to the breeding or wintering grounds of three known subspecies (islandica, limosa and melanuroides, respectively). Determining sex by molecular assays, we computed degrees of sexual size dimorphism. Using principal component analysis (PCA), we compared differences in size and shape among the different subspecies. Results: The limosa subspecies was the largest and also showed the most significant sexual size dimorphism. Sexual size dimorphism was smallest for wing length and largest for bill length. The first two axes of the PCA that included all subspecies of both sexes explained 94% of the total variation. Most body dimensions were highly correlated with each other, but wing length varied independently of the other dimensions. Males and females differed only in size (the first axis). However, one of the two small subspecies, islandica, also differed in shape (the second axis) from limosa and melanuroides. Conclusions: In all three subspecies of Black-tailed Godwits, females are larger than males. The fact that subspecies differed in the degree of size dimorphism and slightly in shape hints at sex-related differences in the ecological selection pressures between the different flyways.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-52
Number of pages8
JournalBird Study
Issue number1
Early online date10-Mar-2020
Publication statusPublished - 14-Jul-2020


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