, Volume 187, Issue 1, pp 305–318 | Cite as

Dynamics of habitat selection in birds: adaptive response to nest predation depends on multiple factors

  • J. H. DevriesEmail author
  • R. G. Clark
  • L. M. Armstrong
Ecosystem ecology – original research


According to theory, habitat selection by organisms should reflect underlying habitat-specific fitness consequences and, in birds, reproductive success has a strong impact on population growth in many species. Understanding processes affecting habitat selection also is critically important for guiding conservation initiatives. Northern pintails (Anas acuta) are migratory, temperate-nesting birds that breed in greatest concentrations in the prairies of North America and their population remains below conservation goals. Habitat loss and changing land use practices may have decoupled formerly reliable fitness cues with respect to nest habitat choices. We used data from 62 waterfowl nesting study sites across prairie Canada (1997–2009) to examine nest survival, a primary fitness metric, at multiple scales, in combination with estimates of habitat selection (i.e., nests versus random points), to test for evidence of adaptive habitat choices. We used the same habitat covariates in both analyses. Pintail nest survival varied with nest initiation date, nest habitat, pintail breeding pair density, landscape composition and annual moisture. Selection of nesting habitat reflected patterns in nest survival in some cases, indicating adaptive selection, but strength of habitat selection varied seasonally and depended on population density and landscape composition. Adaptive selection was most evident late in the breeding season, at low breeding densities and in cropland-dominated landscapes. Strikingly, at high breeding density, habitat choice appears to become maladaptive relative to nest predation. At larger spatial scales, the relative availability of habitats with low versus high nest survival, and changing land use practices, may limit the reproductive potential of pintails.


Agroecosystems Habitat use Conservation Reproductive success Northern pintail 



Financial support for waterfowl nesting studies was provided by Ducks Unlimited Canada through the Institute for Wetland and Waterfowl Research, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through the North American Wetland Conservation Council, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Conservation Education International, the Alberta North American Waterfowl Management Plan Science Fund, and an anonymous Canadian donor. Over 150 crew leaders, field and research assistants assisted with data collection. We acknowledge also the cooperation of many landowners on study sites across prairie Canada for allowing access to their land for nest searching and surveying purposes. All applicable institutional and/or national guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. We appreciate helpful comments provided by Tony Fox, John Eadie, and two anonymous reviewers.

Author contribution statement

JHD and RGC conceived and designed the study. JHD conducted the fieldwork, data analysis and wrote the manuscript. LMA provided statistical advice. RGC provided editorial advice.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

442_2018_4134_MOESM1_ESM.docx (56 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 55 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada
  2. 2.Institute for Wetland and Waterfowl Research, Ducks Unlimited CanadaStonewallCanada
  3. 3.Environment and Climate Change CanadaPrairie and Northern Wildlife Research CenterSaskatoonCanada

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