Density, habitat, and the mating system of the Western Sandpiper (Calidris mauri)
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The hypothesis that intense predation, variable food availability, and increased social interactions in high density populations have been important factors promoting the evolution of polygynous and promiscuous mating systems in certain Calidridine sandpipers (Holmes and Pitelka, 1966) is examined in breeding populations of the Western Sandpiper (Calidris mauri) in subarctic Alaska.
Western Sandpipers breed in a habitat consisting of a complex mosaic of wet low-lying marshes and relatively well-drained, heath-covered tundra. They defend small territories and nest on the latter, while some feeding also occurs there. Most foods however are obtained off territory in the wet marshes and along the shores of lakes, rivers and sloughs.
Densities in the nesting areas ranged from 132–196 pairs/40 ha at the base of a low range of hills to 200–300/40 ha on hummocks surrounded completely by marsh. These densities, the highest reported for a Calidridine sandpiper, are relatively constant from year to year.
The mating system of the Western Sandpiper is monogamous, both sexes incubate and care for young. Correlated with a strong single pair-bond and stable populations is a strong tendency to return to the same site. Of sandpipers marked, an average of 57.6% of males and 48.8% of females returned in succeeding years, frequently to the same territory or its immediate vicinity. Of the pairs returning to the study area in subsequent years, 61.5% reunited.
The restriction of nesting activities to heath tundra is considered to be a result of the protection it provides for nests. With the separation of nesting and feeding areas and with relatively abundant food sources that are not significantly affected by weather, a large nesting area is not required, allowing high densities of Western Sandpipers to occupy the patches of heath-covered tundra. In this ecological context, the high intensity of social interactions has not resulted in the evolution of a nonmonogamous mating system. Indeed, the increased protection afforded offspring by the presence of both parents is probably the most important selective force promoting the evolution of the monogamous mating pattern in Western Sandpipers.
KeywordsMating System High Density Population Abundant Food Selective Force Ecological Context
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