, Volume 16, Issue 5, pp 469-488

Density-dependent habitat selection in migratory passerines during stopover: what causes the deviation from IFD?

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We studied the distribution of migratory warblers (genus: Sylvia) in poor and high quality habitat patches at a stopover site in the northern Negev, Israel. The purpose of our study was to test predictions based on the ideal free distribution (IFD) model by using a natural ecosystem which has a high turnover of individuals moving between unfamiliar foraging patches. We trapped birds in two groves of Pistacia atlantica embedded within a coniferous forest. The fruit-density ratio between these groves was 45:1. We compared bird density, body condition and habitat matching (the ratio between bird density and resource density) at the two sites. To analyse the data we integrated two approaches to density-dependent habitat selection: the isodar method and the habitat matching rule. As predicted by the IFD model, we found that habitat suitability decreased with bird density with a high correlation between warbler densities in the two habitat patches. Contrary to IFD predictions, warbler density in the poor patch was higher than expected by the habitat-matching rule. This habitat under-matching, had a cost: in the rich habitat the average energy gain per individual bird was higher than in the poor habitat. Further analysis suggests that the apparent habitat under-matching is not due to interference or differences in warbler competitive abilities. Therefore, we suggest that this migratory bird community is not at equilibrium because the birds possess imperfect knowledge of resource distribution. We propose that this lack of knowledge leads to free, but not ideal distributions of migrant birds in unfamiliar stop over sites.