Trapped between popular fruit and preferred nest location – cafeterias are poor places to raise a family

Authors

  • Laurence P. Barea,

    Corresponding authorCurrent affiliation:
    1. Department of Conservation, Hamilton Service Centre, Hamilton 3240, New Zealand
    • Institute of Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, Albury, New South Wales, Australia
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  • David M. Watson

    1. Institute of Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, Albury, New South Wales, Australia
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Correspondence author. E-mail: Lbarea@doc.govt.nz

Summary

  1. Nest-site location is a critical component of habitat preference in birds, reflecting a balance between minimizing the likelihood of nest predation while maximizing access to nutritional resources. While many studies have demonstrated the influence of predators in nest-site selection, few studies have explicitly quantified nutritional resources or considered the interacting effects of predation and food availability in determining nest survival.
  2. The painted honeyeater Grantiella picta is a mistletoe-specialist frugivore, with fruit from grey mistletoe Amyema quandang representing the main food source for breeding adults and nestlings. Previous work demonstrated that painted honeyeaters prefer to place their nests within mistletoe substrates. Here, we measured the outcome of 63 nests over two years, relating survival to various structural and resource-based variables to discern whether nests placed in mistletoes were more likely to succeed.
  3. Twenty-one nests survived the 33 day nest period, with 35 of the 42 failed nests predated. While few significant differences were discerned between successful and unsuccessful nests in terms of nest tree or surrounding habitat, nest substrate emerged as the most important predictor of nest fate. Survival of nests in mistletoe was 16·6% across a 33 day active nest period compared with a mean of 43·1% for nests in other substrates, a difference consistent across both years.
  4. Rather than having a positive effect on nest outcome (via access to nutritional resources), proximity to mistletoe had a marked negative effect, with nests in mistletoe suffering a predation rate 2·6 times higher than nests elsewhere. Rather than predators targeting mistletoe clumps, we suggest that this pattern arises from other species visiting fruiting mistletoe clumps, opportunistically predating the nest contents and disturbing attending parents. We interpret this finding as evidence that the painted honeyeater may be caught in an ecological trap; the cues used to select nesting locations are a poor predictor of success.

Ancillary