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Breeding success of sympatric dabbling ducks in relation to population density and food resources


  • Johan Elmberg,

  • Petri Nummi,

  • Hannu Pöysä,

  • Kjell Sjöberg

J. Elmberg, Dept of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, Kristianstad Univ., SE-291 88 Kristianstad, Sweden ( – P. Nummi, Dept of Applied Biology, Univ. of Helsinki, P.O. Box 27, FIN-00014 University of Helsinki, Finland. – H. Pöysä, Finnish Game and Fisheries Res. Inst., Joensuu Game and Fisheries Research, Kauppakatu 18-20, FIN-80100 Joensuu, Finland. – K. Sjöberg, Dept of Animal Ecology, Swedish Univ. of Agricultural Sciences, SE-901 83 Umeå, Sweden.


Breeding success in sympatric mallard Anas platyrhynchos, teal A. crecca and wigeon A. penelope in a boreal watershed in Finland was studied for 12 years. Benthic and surface-emerging prey animals were trapped to obtain annual indices of food abundance. Mallard and teal were equally abundant over the years, being roughly twice as numerous as wigeon.

Pair density, brood:pair ratio and duckling:pair ratio were used to test the hypothesis that per capita breeding success decreases in a density-dependent fashion as either pair density or the number of nesting pairs per available food unit increases. In mallard we found no density-dependent patterns at all. In teal per capita brood production decreased as prey animals became relatively scarcer, but this interpretation may not be robust. In wigeon, however, there were two independent significant patterns of direct density-dependence in a temporal succession, i.e. between pair density and per capita brood production in the early part of the breeding season, and then between per capita abundance of surface-emerging insect prey and the number of ducklings per pair. Despite wide dietary overlap and frequent co-occurrence on single lakes among species in the guild, we found no evidence for interspecific density-dependent effects. We hypothesize that there is no or infrequent food limitation for breeding dabblers in this system, and that behavior may be the process behind the pattern of density-dependence in wigeon.