Influence of human development and predators on nest survival of tundra birds, Arctic Coastal Plain, Alaska

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Abstract

Nest predation may influence population dynamics of birds on the Arctic Coastal Plain (ACP) of Alaska, USA. Anthropogenic development on the ACP is increasing, which may attract nest predators by providing artificial sources of food, perches, den sites, and nest sites. Enhanced populations or concentrations of human-subsidized predators may reduce nest survival for tundra-nesting birds. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that nest survival decreases in proximity to human infrastructure. We monitored 1257 nests of 13 shorebird species and 619 nests of four passerine species at seven sites on the ACP from 2002 to 2005. Study sites were chosen to represent a range of distances to infrastructure from 100 m to 80 km. We used Cox proportional hazards regression models to evaluate the effects of background (i.e., natural) factors and infrastructure on nest survival. We documented high spatial and temporal variability in nest survival, and site and year were both included in the best background model. We did not detect an effect of human infrastructure on nest survival for shorebirds as a group. In contrast, we found evidence that risk of predation for passerine nests increased within 5 km of infrastructure. This finding provides quantitative evidence of a relationship between infrastructure and nest survival for breeding passerines on the ACP. A posteriori finer-scale analyses (within oil field sites and individual species) suggested that Red and Red-necked Phalaropes combined (Phalaropus fulicarius, P. lobatus) had lower productivity closer to infrastructure and in areas with higher abundance of subsidized predators. However, we did not detect such a relationship between infrastructure and nest survival for Semipalmated and Pectoral Sandpipers (Calidris pusilla, C. melanotos), the two most abundant shorebirds. High variability in environmental conditions, nest survival, and predator numbers between sites and years may have contributed to these inconsistent results. We recommend targeted management actions to minimize anthropogenic effects and suggest new research needed on this issue as expanding development is planned for the ACP of Alaska. In particular, we recommend research on demography of key predators and their importance with respect to nest survival, and experimental studies that better address challenges posed by high natural variability.

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