Variation among species and populations in bill shape and size in three planktivorous petrels
Morphological variation in biological structures may be driven by genetic and environmental factors, such as inter- and intraspecific competition for resources. In seabirds, although the bill is also involved in vocalization, olfaction, sexual selection and defence, the main drivers of high morphological plasticity in bill size and shape appear to relate primarily to diet and thus to niche differentiation. Here, we combined geometric morphometrics and comparisons of linear measurements as a precise tool for measuring shape variation in anatomical features, to investigate the differences among species and populations (island groups) in bill shape of three planktivorous petrels (Antarctic prion Pachyptila desolata, blue petrel Halobaena caerulea and thin-billed prion Pachyptila belcheri). Fieldwork was carried out in South Georgia (54° 0′ S, 38° 3′ W), Falkland (51° 42′ S, 57° 51′ W), Diego Ramírez (56° 31′ S, 68° 44′ W) and Kerguelen (49° 20′ S, 69° 20′ E) Islands, from 2010 to 2021. Results show that the bills of Antarctic prions were more robust and shorter, appropriate for filtering large amounts of small prey. Blue petrels and thin-billed prions had narrower and longer bills, effective for catching and tearing large single prey. Also, Antarctic prions and blue petrels from Kerguelen had longer and narrower bills than conspecifics from other colonies, which could potentially be explained by geographic variation in diet. In conclusion, prey availability and diversity appear to be important factors influencing variation in bill morphology. This study highlights the utility of geometric morphometrics for investigating bill shape variation in seabirds. Nevertheless, further studies are needed to better understand selective pressures leading to morphological variation of biological structures.
Authors: Laranjeiro, Maria I., Farré, Marc, Phillips, Richard A., Quillfeldt, Petra, Bonadonna, Francesco, Gémard, Charlene, Daigre, Maximiliano, Suazo, Cristián G., Navarro, Joan