Does nest box use reduce the fitness of a tree-cavity dependent mammal?
Nest boxes are frequently used in conservation programs for tree-cavity dependent wildlife. There is growing concern that the poor insulation properties of nest boxes may produce an ecological trap, because species may require microclimates less extreme or less variable than those experienced inside nest boxes. I investigated the fitness consequences of nest box use in a non-flying mammal. Fifty-two of 104 squirrel gliders (Petaurus norfolcensis) trapped over a 3-year period used nest boxes. Population modelling of the capture data revealed that the probability of apparent survival increased with increasing nest box use. There was no difference in breeding frequency between females that used or did not use nest boxes. There was no evidence that offspring development was hindered within nest boxes. These findings may arise because: (1) gliders could access tree hollows during extreme temperatures, (2) ambient temperatures were mild during the study, (3) gliders construct leaf nests which insulate against low temperatures in winter, and (4) gliders breed between autumn and spring when temperatures are relatively benign. The estimate of annual survival of animals using nest boxes (0.60), was equivalent to estimates at locations where squirrel gliders were either reliant on nest boxes (0.54) or on tree cavities (0.55) for shelter. Studies such as this need to be conducted on a range of species across a range of locations to better understand the influence of nest box use on non-flying mammals.
KeywordsSquirrel glider Petaurus norfolcensis Tree hollow Habitat restoration
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