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Keywords:

  • common loon;
  • Gavia immer;
  • habitat;
  • Montana;
  • patch occupancy, territory

Abstract

Structure and distribution of animal territories are driven by a variety of environmental and demographic factors. A peninsular population of common loons (Gavia immer) nests on lakes in northwestern Montana, but does not occupy all apparently suitable breeding territories, suggesting unexplained limitations on population growth. To evaluate territorial dynamics of breeding loons in Montana, we created and tested occupancy models that evaluated the hypothesized effects of disturbance, habitat, and intraspecific relationships on territory occupancy by common loons in Montana from 2003 to 2007. Model-averaged results indicated that the abundance of feeding lakes within 10 km (i.e., forage quality) and the number of territorial pairs within 10 km (i.e., density of loons) were equally supported and related to probabilities of occupancy. We found substantial support that the population was in a state of equilibrium, with the numbers of occupied territories stable in time, but not space. We also found that density of territorial pairs was related to the likelihood that an existing territory would be abandoned, but did not influence the establishment of new territories, suggesting the presence of territorial pairs could be a stronger indicator of territory quality to loons than physical lake characteristics. Our index of human disturbance was not well-supported compared to other factors. Our results suggest management for stable or growing loon populations could be achieved using long-term monitoring and protection of occupied territorial lakes and nearby feeding lakes, because these factors most influenced the probability of occupancy of surrounding lakes. © 2011 The Wildlife Society.