, Volume 162, Issue 1, pp 59-69
Date: 01 Sep 2009

Age-specific nest-site preference and success in eiders

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Abstract

Variation in nest concealment is puzzling given the expected strong selection for safe nest sites. Selecting a concealed nest may decrease the risk of clutch predation but hinder parents from escaping predators, providing a possible solution to this paradox. Because the relative value of current versus future reproduction may vary with breeder age or state, nest concealment may also vary as a function of these attributes. We tested four predictions of the female and clutch safety trade-off hypothesis in eiders (Somateria mollissima): (1) nest concealment is negatively related to escape possibilities, (2) our capture rate of females is higher in covered nests, (3) egg predation is higher in open nests, and (4) overall nest success is unrelated to nest habitat. We also analysed nest microhabitat preferences and nest success relative to breeder age and body condition, controlling for nest spatial centrality. As expected, nest concealment and potential escape angle were negatively related, and capture by us, indicating female predation vulnerability, increased with nest cover. Clutch size was smaller in open nests, suggesting higher partial clutch predation, while it was larger among experienced and good-condition breeders. The probability of successful hatching was unrelated to nest habitat, positively associated with breeder experience, and negatively associated with hatching date. Experienced females selected more concealed and centrally located nests without sacrificing potential escape angles. The age-specific spatial distribution of nests on islands was unrelated to nest initiation dates, indicating no apparent competition. The age-specific preference of eiders for concealed nests may reflect declining reproductive value with age or confidence in surviving despite selecting a concealed nest. The apparently positive relationship between female age and survival and fecundity in eiders refutes the former alternative. Individual improvement in choosing safe nest sites, coupled with differential survival of individuals performing well, most likely explains age-specific nest-site preference and success.

Communicated by Chris Whelan.