Density-dependent population regulation is observed in many taxa, and understanding the mechanisms that generate density dependence is especially important for the conservation of heavily-managed species. In one such system, North American waterfowl, density dependence is often observed at continental scales, and nest predation has long been implicated as a key factor driving this pattern. However, despite extensive research on this topic, it remains unclear if and how nest density influences predation rates. Part of this confusion may have arisen because previous studies have studied density-dependent predation at relatively large spatial and temporal scales. Because the spatial distribution of nests changes throughout the season, which potentially influences predator behavior, nest survival may vary through time at relatively small spatial scales. As such, density-dependent nest predation might be more detectable at a spatially- and temporally-refined scale and this may provide new insights into nest site selection and predator foraging behavior. Here, we used three years of data on nest survival of two species of waterfowl, mallards and gadwall, to more fully explore the relationship between local nest clustering and nest survival. Throughout the season, we found that the distribution of nests was consistently clustered at small spatial scales (˜50–400 m), especially for mallard nests, and that this pattern was robust to yearly variation in nest density and the intensity of predation. We demonstrated further that local nest clustering had positive fitness consequences – nests with closer nearest neighbors were more likely to be successful, a result that is counter to the general assumption that nest predation rates increase with nest density.
Additional Publication Details
Adaptive nest clustering and density-dependent nest survival in dabbling ducks