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Nest-site selection and nest success of an Arctic-breeding passerine, Smith's Longspur, in a changing climate

June 7, 2017

Despite changes in shrub cover and weather patterns associated with climate change in the Arctic, little is known about the breeding requirements of most passerines tied to northern regions. We investigated the nesting biology and nest habitat characteristics of Smith's Longspurs (Calcarius pictus) in 2 study areas in the Brooks Range of Alaska, USA. First, we examined variation in nesting phenology in relation to local temperatures. We then characterized nesting habitat and analyzed nest-site selection for a subset of nests (n = 86) in comparison with paired random points. Finally, we estimated the daily survival rate of 257 nests found in 2007–2013 with respect to both habitat characteristics and weather variables. Nest initiation was delayed in years with snow events, heavy rain, and freezing temperatures early in the breeding season. Nests were typically found in open, low-shrub tundra, and never among tall shrubs (mean shrub height at nests = 26.8 ± 6.7 cm). We observed weak nest-site selection patterns. Considering the similarity between nest sites and paired random points, coupled with the unique social mating system of Smith's Longspurs, we suggest that habitat selection may occur at the neighborhood scale and not at the nest-site scale. The best approximating model explaining nest survival suggested a positive relationship with the numbers of days above 21°C that an individual nest experienced; there was little support for models containing habitat variables. The daily nest survival rate was high (0.972–0.982) compared with that of most passerines in forested or grassland habitats, but similar to that of passerines nesting on tundra. Considering their high nesting success and ability to delay nest initiation during inclement weather, Smith's Longspurs may be resilient to predicted changes in weather regimes on the breeding grounds. Thus, the greatest threat to breeding Smith's Longspurs associated with climate change may be the loss of low-shrub habitat types, which could significantly change the characteristics of breeding areas.

Publication Year 2017
Title Nest-site selection and nest success of an Arctic-breeding passerine, Smith's Longspur, in a changing climate
DOI 10.1650/CONDOR-16-87.1
Authors Heather R. McFarland, Steve J. Kendall, Abby Powell
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title The Condor
Index ID 70188372
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coop Res Unit Seattle