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Predator movements in relation to habitat features reveal vulnerability of duck nests to predation

September 20, 2022

Nest predation is the main cause of nest failure for ducks. Understanding how habitat features influence predator movements may facilitate management of upland and wetland breeding habitats that reduces predator encounter rates with duck nests and increases nest survival rates. For 1618 duck nests, nest survival increased with distance to phragmites (Phragmites australis), shrubs, telephone poles, human structures, and canals, but not for four other habitat features. Using GPS collars, we tracked 25 raccoons (Procyon lotor) and 16 striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis) over 4 years during waterfowl breeding and found marked differences in how these predators were located relative to specific habitat features; moreover, the probability of duck nests being encountered by predators differed by species. Specifically, proximity to canals, wetlands, trees, levees/roads, human structures, shrubs, and telephone poles increased the likelihood of a nest being encountered by collared raccoons. For collared skunks, nests were more likely to be encountered if they were closer to canals, trees, and shrubs, and farther from wetlands and human structures. Most predator encounters with duck nests were attributable to a few individuals; 29.2% of raccoons and 38.5% of skunks were responsible for 95.6% of total nest encounters. During the central span of duck nesting (April 17–June 14: 58 nights), these seven raccoons and five skunks encountered >1 nest on 50.8 ± 29.2% (mean ± SD) and 41.5 ± 28.3% of nights, respectively, and of those nights individual raccoons and skunks averaged 2.60 ± 1.28 and 2.50 ± 1.09 nest encounters/night, respectively. For collared predators that encountered >1 nest, a higher proportion of nests encountered by skunks had evidence of predation (51.9 ± 26.6%) compared to nests encountered by raccoons (22.3 ± 17.1%). Because duck eggs were most likely consumed as raccoons and skunks opportunistically discovered nests, managing the habitat features those predators most strongly associated with could potentially reduce rates of egg predation.

Publication Year 2022
Title Predator movements in relation to habitat features reveal vulnerability of duck nests to predation
DOI 10.1002/ece3.9329
Authors Sarah H. Peterson, Josh T. Ackerman, Meghan P Keating, Carley Rose Schacter, C. Alex Hartman, Michael L. Casazza, Mark P. Herzog
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecology and Evolution
Index ID 70238495
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center