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1 July 2009 Dark Color of the Coastal Plain Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza Georgiana Nigrescens) may be an Evolutionary Response to Occurrence and Abundance of Salt-Tolerant Feather-Degrading Bacilli in Its Plumage
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Abstract

The Southern Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana georgiana) breeds in northeastern North America in montane, freshwater marshes and fens. Its close relative, the Coastal Plain Swamp Sparrow (M. g. nigrescens), breeds in northeastern North America, but in coastal salt marshes. Coastal Plain Swamp Sparrows are darker than Southern Swamp Sparrows. Darkly colored feathers are more resistant to bacterial degradation by bacilli, which are unusually salt-tolerant. We tested whether the difference in feather color of the pale montane Southern Swamp Sparrow and the dark Coastal Plain Swamp Sparrow could be an adaptive response to differences in the occurrence and activity of bacilli in habitats that differ in salinity. Southern Swamp Sparrows were caught and sampled in cranberry fens in western Maryland, whereas Coastal Plain Swamp Sparrows were sampled in salt marshes on the western shore of the Delaware River, just where it broadens into Delaware Bay. The number of birds with feather-degrading bacteria in their plumage was significantly greater among Swamp Sparrows in salt marshes than among those in freshwater fens. The number of colonies of feather-degrading bacilli per bird was also higher for salt-marsh Swamp Sparrows than for those from freshwater fens. We conclude that the dark plumage of Coastal Plain Swamp Sparrows evolved to resist feather-degradation by salt-tolerant bacilli that occur more frequently and abundantly in their plumage than in the pale plumage of the Southern Swamp Sparrow.

© 2009 by The American Ornithologists' Union. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press's Rights and Permissions website, http://www.ucpressjournals.com/reprintInfo.asp.
Ashley M. Peele, Edward H. Burtt, Max R. Schroeder, and Russell S. Greenberg "Dark Color of the Coastal Plain Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza Georgiana Nigrescens) may be an Evolutionary Response to Occurrence and Abundance of Salt-Tolerant Feather-Degrading Bacilli in Its Plumage," The Auk 126(3), 531-535, (1 July 2009). https://doi.org/10.1525/auk.2009.08142
Received: 25 July 2008; Accepted: 1 January 2009; Published: 1 July 2009
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