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Habitat selection by postbreeding female diving ducks: Influence of habitat attributes and conspecifics

September 19, 2016

Habitat selection studies of postbreeding waterfowl have rarely focused on within-wetland attributes such as water depth, escape cover, and food availability. Flightless waterfowl must balance habitat selection between avoiding predation risks and feeding. Reproductively successful female ducks face the greatest challenges because they begin the definitive prebasic molt at or near the end of brood rearing, when their body condition is at a low point. We assessed the relative importance of habitat attributes and group effects in habitat selection by postbreeding female lesser scaup Aythya affinis on a 2332-ha montane wetland complex during the peak flightless period (August) over seven years. Hypothesis-based habitat attributes included percent open water, open water:emergent edge density, water depth, percent flooded bare substrate, fetch (distance wind can travel unobstructed), group size, and several interactions representing functional responses to interannual variation in water levels. Surveys of uniquely marked females were conducted within randomly ordered survey blocks. We fitted two-part generalized linear mixed-effects models to counts of marked females within survey blocks, which allowed us to relate habitat attributes to relative probability of occurrence and, given the presence of a marked female, abundance of marked individuals. Postbreeding female scaup selected areas with water depths > 40 cm, large open areas, and intermediate edge densities but showed no relation to flooded bare substrate, suggesting their habitat preferences were more influenced by avoiding predation risks and disturbances than in meeting foraging needs. Grouping behavior by postbreeding scaup suggests habitat selection is influenced in part by behavioral components and/or social information, conferring energetic and survival benefits (predation and disturbance risks) but potentially also contributing to competition for food resources. This study demonstrates the importance of incorporating group effects and interannual variability in habitat conditions when investigating habitat selection, particularly for seasons when waterfowl are aggregated.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2017
Title Habitat selection by postbreeding female diving ducks: Influence of habitat attributes and conspecifics
DOI 10.1111/jav.01063
Authors Jane E. Austin, Shawn T. O'Neil, Jeffrey M. Warren
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Avian Biology
Index ID 70176504
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center