Sources of variation in the nesting success of understory tropical birds


  • Jeffrey D. Brawn,

  • George Angehr,

  • Nicole Davros,

  • W. Douglas Robinson,

  • Jennifer N. Styrsky,

  • Corey E. Tarwater

J. D. Brawn (, Dept of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1102 South Goodwin Ave, 606 East Healy St., IL 61820, USA. – G. Angher, Smithsonian Tropical Res. Inst., Apartado 2072, Balboa, Republic of Panama. – N. Davros and C. E. Tarwater, Progr. in Ecol., Evol. and Cons. Biol., Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champain, 606 East Healy St., IL 61820, USA. – W. D. Robinson, Dept of Fisheries and Wildlife, Oregon State Univ., 104 Nash Hall, Corvallis, OR 97331-3803, USA.


Survival of offspring is a key fitness component and, for birds, the threat of predation on nests is especially influential. Data on rates of nest success from tropical regions are comparatively few, conservation-relevant, and essential for assessing the validity of models comparing the life histories and behavior or birds across latitudinal gradients. We monitored over 2 000 nests in the lowland forests of central Panama and, using the logistic exposure to model the fate of nests, explored the importance of variation in rate of nest success according to type of nest, height of nests, among years, in early versus late nests, and at different stages of the nest cycle. Analyses of over 1 400 nests for 18 species revealed considerable variation among species in the daily survival rate of nests (range among 18 species=0.91 to 0.98), but nest type and stage of the nesting cycle were generally influential on the probability of nest success. Cavity or enclosed nesters experienced greater nest success than open cup nesters and rates of nest loss were generally greatest in the nestling stage. We found limited evidence that height of nests affected probability of success, but no indication that timing of nesting effort was influential. Despite the occurrence of a severe ENSO event during our sampling, annual variation in nest success was not consistent among species. Interspecific variation in the rates and patterns of nest predation in our study, coupled with reports of high rates of nest loss at temperate latitudes, lead us to question long standing assumptions about latitudinal trends in rates of nest loss. We urge further work to understand the implications of nest predation on the evolutionary ecology of tropical birds.