AbstractsBiology & Animal Science

A flight of fancy in the Chorister Robin-Chat (Cossypha dichroa) : an isotopic standpoint

by Milena Helena Wolmarans

Institution: Rhodes University
Department: Faculty of Science, Zoology and Entomology
Degree: MS
Year: 2015
Keywords: Muscicapidae  – South Africa; Muscicapidae  – Food; Muscicapidae  – Habitat; Muscicapidae  – Habitat  – Conservation; Forest birds  – South Africa; Isotopes; Stable isotope tracers
Record ID: 1481114
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10962/d1017207


Forested areas have been cited for their highly diverse floral and faunal assemblages, which are currently under threat from anthropogenic activities that restrict their range and deplete the resources produced within these naturally fragmented patches. Historically, up to 67% of avifaunal species associated with well-treed areas have undergone localised extinctions, consequentially affecting biodiversity as a measure of species richness and ecosystem functionality. To date, more than 900 of the bird species affiliated with forests are under threat and despite the theory surrounding functional redundancy, the mass extinction that is currently underway poses considerable limitations on the ecological integrity of these biomes. In South Africa, indigenous forest (one of the rarest biomes), occurs predominantly in small isolated patches along the eastern escarpment. With mountainous terrain emphasised as ‘prominent hotspots of extinction’, the limited dispersal and habitat sensitivity of montane forest fauna renders these species more prone to localised extinctions. BirdLife International, the IUCN and SABAP2 all indicate reductions in the range and abundance of the Chorister Robin-Chat (Cossypha dichroa) - an endemic forest specialist that is reported to move seasonally between high-altitude forest patches where they breed in summer, and lowland coastal forests where they overwinter. Beyond diet, body morphology and vocalisations, much of the information available on the altitudinal movements of C. dichroa is based on secondary sources and the assumptions therein. This study aimed to investigate the potential utilisation of δ13C and δ15N stable isotopes in determining the dietary niche width and altitudinal movements of C. dichroa. Feathers obtained in forested patches of the Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape provinces exhibited a wide trophic niche width and generalised diet. Strong regional separation is apparent in the isotopic signatures suggesting little movement between provinces. A comparison of 13C-isotopes showed minimal variation that point to a uniformity in the carbon-base utilised by C. dichroa across their range. The 15N-signatures obtained in Limpopo, however, revealed a distinct trophic segregation between the northern-most Chorister populations and their southern counterparts. No altitudinal movements were detected in the isotopic signatures of recaptured Choristers, but more research is needed to investigate the long-term accuracy of these results and the breeding potential of resident Choristers in lowland coastal forests; especially when considering the reduced range and abundance reported for this endemic species.