Wing shape variation in the medium ground finch (Geospiza fortis): an ecomorphological approach




Wing design in birds is subject to a suite of interacting selective pressures. As different performance traits are favoured in different ecological settings, a tight link is generally expected between variation in wing morphology and variation in ecological parameters. In the present study, we document aspects of variation in wing morphology in the medium ground finch (Geospiza fortis) on Isla Santa Cruz in the Galápagos. We compare variation in body size, simple morphometric traits (body mass, last primary length, wing length, wing chord, and wing area) and functional traits (wing loading, aspect ratio and wing pointedness) across years, among populations, and between sexes. Functional traits are found to covary across years with differences in climatic conditions, and to covary among populations with differences in habitat structure. In dry years and arid locations, wing aspect ratios are highest and wings are more pointed, consistent with a need for a low cost of transport. In wet years and cluttered habitats, wing loading is lowest and wings are more rounded, suggesting enhanced capabilities for manoeuvrability. Sexes differ in wing loading, with males having lower wing loadings than females. Superior manoeverability might be favoured in males for efficient territory maintenance. Lastly, in contrast to functional traits, we found little consistent inter-annual or inter-site variation in simple morphometric traits. © 2009 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2009, 98, 129–138.