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Does vegetation change over 28 years affect habitat use and reproductive success?

November 4, 2019

Individuals should prefer and use habitats that confer high fitness, but habitat use is not always adaptive. Vegetation in natural landscapes changes gradually and the ability of species to adaptively adjust their habitat use to long-term changes is largely unstudied. We studied nest patch and territory use over 28 yr in Orange-crowned Warblers (Oreothlypis celata) in a system that has undergone natural long-term changes in vegetation. Abundance of maple (Acer grandidentatum), its preferred nesting habitat, gradually declined from 1987 to 2015. We examined whether habitat use and its fitness consequences changed as the availability of preferred habitat decreased. We used resource selection function models to determine changes over time in the probability of using a nest patch given available patches, and the probability of using a territory given available territories. We estimated nest survival to evaluate changes over time in the fitness consequences of nest patch use. We also compared habitat use (nest patch and territory) and fitness (nest survival) between areas with naturally reduced abundance of maple and experimentally increased abundance of maple (fenced areas). Nest patch use depended on maple abundance and did not change drastically across 28 yr, even though the availability of preferred maple patches decreased over time. In contrast, nest survival tended to decrease over time. We did not see differences in nest patch use and nest survival between unfenced and fenced areas, unlike territory use, which increased with the abundance of maple in fenced areas and decreased in unfenced areas. Our study depicts one example of relatively unchanged habitat use in the face of decreased availability of preferred vegetation across years, with a resulting decrease in reproductive success. Investigating changes in habitat use and fitness consequences for animals exposed to long-term habitat change is necessary to understand adaptive behavioral responses.

Publication Year 2020
Title Does vegetation change over 28 years affect habitat use and reproductive success?
DOI 10.1093/auk/ukz061
Authors Karolina Fierro-Calderón, Thomas E. Martin
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title The Auk
Index ID 70227124
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit