Birds and other animals are frequently killed by cars, causing the death of many million individuals per year. Why some species are killed more often than others has never been investigated. In this work hypothesized that risk taking behavior may affect the probability of certain kinds of individuals being killed disproportionately often. Furthermore, behavior of individuals on roads, abundance, habitat preferences, breeding sociality, and health status may all potentially affect the risk of being killed on roads. We used information on the abundance of road kills and the abundance in the surrounding environment of 50 species of birds obtained during regular censuses in 2001-2006 in a rural site in Denmark to test these predictions. The frequency of road kills increased linearly with abundance, while the proportion of individuals sitting on the road or flying low across the road only explained little additional variation in frequency of road casualties. After having accounted for abundance, we found that species with a short flight distance and hence taking greater risks when approached by a potential cause of danger were killed disproportionately often. In addition, solitary species, species with a high prevalence of Plasmodium infection, and species with a large bursa of Fabricius for their body size had a high susceptibility to being killed by cars. These findings suggest that a range of different factors indicative of risk-taking behavior, visual acuity and health status cause certain bird species to be susceptible to casualties due to cars.
Population studies assume that individuals belonging to a study population are homogeneous for natal and breeding origin, although this assumption is rarely tested. We tested for heterogeneity in stable-isotope profiles (delta15N, delta13C, deltaD) of feathers grown in the African winter quarters from a Danish breeding population of adult barn swallows, Hirundo rustica. Deuterium isotope values did not provide useful information on population segregation of wintering swallows in Africa. However, both delta15N and delta13C values showed a clearly bimodal distribution with 6% belonging to one category and the remaining birds belonging to another category, resulting in this population comprising three categories of birds. Adults belonging to the two categories of delta13C isotope profiles differed weakly in morphology for several different characters. The frequency and the size of second broods differed between categories of delta13C isotope profiles. Phenotypes of nestlings from the first brood in terms of tarsus length, body mass and T-cell response differed significantly between the two delta15N isotope categories, suggesting that conditions during winter carried over to the breeding season at least as late as the first brood. Polymorphism can be maintained only if fitness is similar for birds from categories of isotope profiles. We suggest that fluctuating selection or migration-selection balance may maintain the observed polymorphism.
Ionizing radiation has been shown to produce negative effects on organisms, although little is known about its ecological and evolutionary effects. As a study model, we isolated bacteria associated with feathers from barn swallows Hirundo rustica from three study areas around Chernobyl differing in background ionizing radiation levels and one control study site in Denmark. Each bacterial community was exposed to four different ? radiation doses ranging from 0.46 to 3.96 kGy to test whether chronic exposure to radiation had selected for resistant bacterial strains. Experimental radiation duration had an increasingly overall negative effect on the survival of all bacterial communities. After exposure to ? radiation, bacteria isolated from the site with intermediate background radiation levels survived better and produced more colonies than the bacterial communities from other study sites with higher or lower background radiation levels. Long-term effects of radiation in natural populations might be an important selective pressure on traits of bacteria that facilitate survival in certain environments. Our findings indicate the importance of further studies to understand the proximate mechanisms acting to buffer the negative effects of ionizing radiation in natural populations.