A comparative study of territory in the Reed warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) and Sedge warbler (A. schoenobaenus)



Various aspects of territoriality were studied comparatively in a marked population of Reed and Sedge warblers at the Attenborough Nature Reserve, Nottinghamshire. Differences in arrival patterns, establishment of territory and particularly territory size were detected. In view of the dynamic nature of territory boundaries, a method is described for obtaining measures of mean territory size for comparative purposes. The sympatric species were largely separated by different breeding and feeding habitats, but there was also a degree of interspecific competition in some areas and interspecific territorialism was found to occur. Adults of both these migratory species were found to exhibit strong site fidelity, and there was some evidence to suggest that early post-fledging experience may influence initial selection of a particular area and territory for first breeding.

The adaptive significance of territory is discussed in relation to the findings presented and current hypotheses. There was some evidence which suggests that reduction of predation pressure and intraspecific interference through spacing out, as well as provision of a nest-site may be important functions of territory in these species, but no evidence that food supply or population regulation are involved. The significance of interspecific territorialism is considered in relation to interspecific competition. The various factors effecting territory size and the patterns of nesting dispersion are also considered in an attempt to account for the striking interspecific differences found between these closely related species. It is concluded that although a multiplicity of factors may well be interacting in complex fashion, the more important of these stem from contrasts in the physical properties of the two habitats.