1. Parents determine habitat selection for precocial young by leading their young to foraging areas until the chicks attain full independence. There are potential benefits and costs to reproductive success associated with changing habitats while caring for young. This study investigated the relationship between different types of habitats and their quality on chick survival and brood movements of a declining upland shorebird, the mountain plover Charadrius montanus.
2. From 2004 to 2006, a total of 153 mountain plover broods were monitored on the primary breeding habitats in eastern Colorado, USA; two shortgrass prairie habitats that were either occupied or unoccupied by black-tailed prairie dogs Cynomys ludovicianus and agricultural lands. Habitat quality hypotheses were tested using newly developed statistical applications to estimate survival of chicks and brood movement patterns.
3. Chick survival and brood movements were influenced by habitat. Chick survival over the 30-day brood-rearing period was substantially higher on nesting habitat of shortgrass occupied by prairie dogs compared with agricultural land and shortgrass unoccupied by prairie dogs. The rate of brood movement away from shortgrass with prairie dogs was lower than shortgrass without prairie dogs, but higher than agricultural lands for each year of the study.
4. This study suggests that complex processes influence how different habitats affect brood-rearing activity of mountain plovers. Even though broods moved off nesting habitat of shortgrass occupied by prairie dogs, this habitat had the highest survival rate and is highly important to mountain plover reproductive success.
5. Synthesis and applications. In order to develop effective conservation strategies, the provision of adequate breeding habitat should include information on patterns of habitat selection for all stages of the breeding cycle, including the nesting and dependent young periods. From a conservation perspective, understanding the habitat use of young birds is critical when population dynamics show great sensitivity to survival of young. Previous studies on mountain plovers have suggested that nest success is similar among shortgrass prairie habitats and agricultural lands. Thus, conservation measures that increase nest success may be ineffective for mountain plovers unless they are accompanied by measures promoting chick survival.