Testing for conspecific attraction in an obligate saltmarsh bird: Can behavior be used to aid marsh restoration?
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Understanding mechanisms that promote colonization by target species is critical to advancing the success of coastal wetland restoration. Recent work in avian behavioral ecology suggests that social cues might influence settlement decisions in a range of species, however little is known about the extent to which social mechanisms might influence settlement decisions for those inhabiting coastal wetlands. In this study, we tested whether or not the saltmarsh sparrow (Ammodramus caudacutus), an obligate saltmarsh species of conservation concern, uses conspecific attraction to make habitat selection decisions. Despite previous research suggesting a potential role for auditory conspecific cues in sparrow settlement decisions, we found no evidence that saltmarsh sparrows respond to them in two distinct experiments. Playing saltmarsh sparrow vocalizations at 11 sites with very low saltmarsh sparrow densities did not change numbers from those observed in prior years. In a controlled experiment at marshes with high saltmarsh sparrow densities, numbers of adults, nests, and fledglings were similar at control and experimental plots. The results of this study suggest that auditory conspecific cues are not an important component of habitat settlement decisions for this species and are unlikely to facilitate the colonization of unoccupied habitat.