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Testing ecological and behavioral correlates of nest predation


  • Joseph J. Fontaine,

  • Mireille Martel,

  • Helen M. Markland,

  • Alina M. Niklison,

  • Karie L. Decker,

  • Thomas E. Martin

J. J. Fontaine (, M. Martel, H. M. Markland, A. M. Niklison, K. L. Decker and T. E. Martin, Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, and United States Geological Survey, The Univ. of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812, USA. Present address for JJF: Sonoran Desert Research Station, Univ. of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA. Present address for HMM: Dept of Zoology, Cambridge Univ., Cambridge, UK, CB2 3EJ. Present address for KLD: Arizona Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, Univ. of Arizona, Tucson AZ 85721, USA.


Variation in nest predation rates among bird species are assumed to reflect differences in risk that are specific to particular nest sites. Theoretical and empirical studies suggest that parental care behaviors can evolve in response to nest predation risk and thereby differ among ecological conditions that vary in inherent risk. However, parental care also can influence predation risk. Separating the effects of nest predation risk inherent to a nest site from the risk imposed by parental strategies is needed to understand the evolution of parental care. Here we identify correlations between risks inherent to nest sites, and risk associated with parental care behaviors, and use an artificial nest experiment to assess site-specific differences in nest predation risk across nesting guilds and between habitats that differed in nest predator abundance. We found a strong correlation between parental care behaviors and inherent differences in nest predation risk, but despite the absence of parental care at artificial nests, patterns of nest predation risk were similar for real and artificial nests both across nesting guilds and between predator treatments. Thus, we show for the first time that inherent risk of nest predation varies with nesting guild and predator abundance independent of parental care.

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