, Volume 167, Issue 4, pp 943–950 | Cite as

Experimental evidence for a novel mechanism driving variation in habitat quality in a food-caching bird

  • Dan Strickland
  • Brian Kielstra
  • D. Ryan NorrisEmail author
Population ecology - Original Paper


Variation in habitat quality can have important consequences for fitness and population dynamics. For food-caching species, a critical determinant of habitat quality is normally the density of storable food, but it is also possible that quality is driven by the ability of habitats to preserve food items. The food-caching gray jay (Perisoreus canadensis) occupies year-round territories in the coniferous boreal and subalpine forests of North America, but does not use conifer seed crops as a source of food. Over the last 33 years, we found that the occupancy rate of territories in Algonquin Park (ON, Canada) has declined at a higher rate in territories with a lower proportion of conifers compared to those with a higher proportion. Individuals occupying territories with a low proportion of conifers were also less likely to successfully fledge young. Using chambers to simulate food caches, we conducted an experiment to examine the hypothesis that coniferous trees are better able to preserve the perishable food items stored in summer and fall than deciduous trees due to their antibacterial and antifungal properties. Over a 1–4 month exposure period, we found that mealworms, blueberries, and raisins all lost less weight when stored on spruce and pine trees compared to deciduous and other coniferous trees. Our results indicate a novel mechanism to explain how habitat quality may influence the fitness and population dynamics of food-caching animals, and has important implications for understanding range limits for boreal breeding animals.


Gray jays Perisoreuscanadensis Population decline Territory occupancy GIS 



We thank the dozens of volunteers who helped with nest finding and banding adult and nestling jays over the last 40 years. We also particularly thank P. Palbiski and M. Brown for help with the design and construction of the storage chambers, and S. Strickland, M. Strickland, R. Tozer, and the late M. Pageot for help with chamber placement and recovery.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dan Strickland
    • 1
  • Brian Kielstra
    • 2
  • D. Ryan Norris
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.DwightCanada
  2. 2.Department of GeographyUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada
  3. 3.Department of Integrative BiologyUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada

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