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Predation rate on artificial nests increases with human housing density in suburban habitats


  • Katherine K. Thorington,

  • Reed Bowman

K. K. Thorington, Wake Forest University, Dept of Biology, Box 7325, Winston-Salem, NC 27109, USA. – R. Bowman (correspondence:, Archbold Biological Station, P.O. Box 2057, Lake Placid, FL 33870, USA.


Predation causes most nest failure in birds. Predator communities are likely to vary across a gradient of increasing urbanization, so nest predation also is likely to vary across this gradient. Although predation is thought to decline with increasing urbanization, relatively little is known about variation in predation pressure within strata along an urban gradient and how factors known to affect nest success, such as nest location, interact with urban variables, such as human housing density. Native habitats are frequently fragmented and isolated by suburban residential development, thus we quantified predation rates on artificial nests located in natural oak scrub patches within a suburban matrix in south-central Florida. We examined patterns of predation based on nest location relative to habitat edges, artificial nest weathering treatment, nest shrub height, and human housing density. Over two 18-d trials, we placed a total of 240 nests, each containing a single quail egg and a clay sham, along three roadside transects. Nest predation was not influenced by proximity to edge, nest weathering, or trial date, but was highest at high housing density and lowest at low housing density. The proportion of quail eggs removed from nests increased with human housing density. Birds were the most frequent predators of artificial nests, but the relative frequency of predation by birds or mammals did not differ relative to any of our treatments. Higher rates of nest predation with increasing human housing density within suburban habitats may reflect changes in habitat structure and composition that increase the vulnerability of nests to predation or changes in the composition of the predator community. Our results modify the conclusions of previous studies by suggesting that at scales smaller than the entire urban gradient, nest predation may increase with human housing density, one common measure of urbanization.