Potential misuse of avian density as a conservation metric

Conservation Biology
By:  and 



: Effective conservation metrics are needed to evaluate the success of management in a rapidly changing world. Reproductive rates and densities of breeding birds (as a surrogate for reproductive rate) have been used to indicate the quality of avian breeding habitat, but the underlying assumptions of these metrics rarely have been examined. When birds are attracted to breeding areas in part by the presence of conspecifics and when breeding in groups influences predation rates, the effectiveness of density and reproductive rate as indicators of habitat quality is reduced. It is beneficial to clearly distinguish between individual- and population-level processes when evaluating habitat quality. We use the term reproductive rate to refer to both levels and further distinguish among levels by using the terms per capita fecundity (number of female offspring per female per year, individual level) and population growth rate (the product of density and per capita fecundity, population level). We predicted how density and reproductive rate interact over time under density-independent and density-dependent scenarios, assuming the ideal free distribution model of how birds settle in breeding habitats. We predicted population density of small populations would be correlated positively with both per capita fecundity and population growth rate due to the Allee effect. For populations in the density-dependent growth phase, we predicted no relation between density and per capita fecundity (because individuals in all patches will equilibrate to the same success rate) and a positive relation between density and population growth rate. Several ecological theories collectively suggest that positive correlations between density and per capita fecundity would be difficult to detect. We constructed a decision tree to guide interpretation of positive, neutral, nonlinear, and negative relations between density and reproductive rates at individual and population levels.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Potential misuse of avian density as a conservation metric
Series title Conservation Biology
DOI 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2010.01571.x
Volume 25
Issue 1
Year Published 2011
Language English; Spanish
Publisher Society for Conservation Biology
Contributing office(s) Fort Collins Science Center
Description 8 p.
First page 48
Last page 55
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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