Hypotheses about habitat selection developed in the evolutionary ecology framework assume that individuals, under some conditions, select breeding habitat based on expected fitness in different habitat. The relationship between habitat quality and fitness may be reflected by breeding success of individuals, which may in turn be used to assess habitat quality. Habitat quality may also be assessed via local density: if high-quality sites are preferentially used, high density may reflect high-quality habitat.
Here we assessed whether site occupancy dynamics vary with site surrogates for habitat quality. We modeled nest site use probability in a seabird subcolony (the Black-legged Kittiwake, Rissa tridactyla) over a 20-year period. We estimated site persistence (an occupied site remains occupied from time t to t + 1) and colonization through two subprocesses: first colonization (site creation at the timescale of the study) and recolonization (a site is colonized again after being deserted). Our model explicitly incorporated site-specific and neighboring breeding success and conspecific density in the neighborhood. Our results provided evidence that reproductively “successful” sites have a higher persistence probability than “unsuccessful” ones. Analyses of site fidelity in marked birds and of survival probability showed that high site persistence predominantly reflects site fidelity, not immediate colonization by new owners after emigration or death of previous owners. There is a negative quadratic relationship between local density and persistence probability. First colonization probability decreases with density, whereas recolonization probability is constant. This highlights the importance of distinguishing initial colonization and recolonization to understand site occupancy. All dynamics varied positively with neighboring breeding success. We found evidence of a positive interaction between site-specific and neighboring breeding success.
We addressed local population dynamics using a site occupancy approach integrating hypotheses developed in behavioral ecology to account for individual decisions. This allows development of models of population and metapopulation dynamics that explicitly incorporate ecological and evolutionary processes.