Disentangling abiotic and biotic mechanisms behind the formation of heterospecific Nearctic-Neotropical shorebird flocks
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Defense, vigilance, and optimal foraging are frequently related to the formation of flocks in birds. Few studies concerning long-distance migrant shorebirds analyzed whether phylogeny and ecological similarities of species are associated with the formation of heterospecific flocks. Here, we explore (1) the niche conservatism theory, (2) the competition-relatedness hypothesis, and (3) the niche construction hypothesis to explain the formation of wintering Nearctic-Neotropical heterospecific shorebird flocks in the southeastern coast of Brazil. In the first, closely-related species keep their ecological traits over time. In the last two hypotheses, ecological dissimilar and distant-related species may coexist due to strong biotic interactions. Our results discard the influence of relatedness between species and/or phylogenetic filtering signals that could act in the formation of heterospecific flocks. Co-participation of species in flocks is explained by similarities in body weight and tarsus length, which invokes the niche construction hypothesis. Probably, some similar-sized and niche-constructing species are relocating in space and changing the environment that they experience to optimize individual capacity to flee from predators. From an ecological perspective, numerous phenotypically similar species with redundant roles could lead to greater resilience of the community under anthropogenic disturbances. From an evolutionary perspective, different species with similar phenotypes may diminish costs of activity matching and augment individual fitness.