Environmental heterogeneity and biotic interactions as potential drivers of spatial patterning of shorebird nests

Abstract

Context

Species distributions are driven by a wide variety of abiotic and biotic factors, including nest placement for breeding individuals. As such, the spatial distribution of nests within a landscape can reflect environmental heterogeneity, habitat preferences, or even interactions with predators and other species.

Objectives

We determined the extent to which environmental heterogeneity and predation risk accounted for the observed spatial distribution of nests.

Methods

We assessed the spatial distribution of 112 nests of a migratory shorebird, the Hudsonian Godwit (Limosa haemastica), at Beluga River, Alaska, from 2009 to 2012, and explicitly tested for the relative influence of habitat characteristics and predation risk on nest locations. We also evaluated the effect of nest location, distance to conspecific nests, and proximity to roads on nest fate using 64 nests that were monitored through completion.

Results

Hudsonian Godwit nests were clustered across the landscape despite a lack of significant spatial autocorrelation (i.e., patchiness) in vegetation characteristics at either the micro- or landscape scale. Nest fate also was not predicted by either the distance to the nearest conspecific neighbor or proximity to roads. Thus, neither habitat characteristics nor predation risk explained the clustering of godwit nests.

Conclusions

These results suggest that godwits may select nest locations based more on social cues than underlying heterogeneity in vegetation or predation risk. As such, intra- and inter-specific interactions should be considered when developing management plans for species of conservation concern.

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Acknowledgements

J. Fitzpatrick, W. Koenig, and two anonymous reviewers provided valuable comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript. Many thanks also to numerous field assistants that assisted in data collection. Funding was provided by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Faucett Family Foundation, National Science Foundation (#1110444), Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, the Athena Fund at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, American Ornithologists’ Union, and Arctic Audubon Society. All procedures performed in this study involving animals were in accordance with the ethical standards of Cornell University. The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Rose J. Swift.

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Swift, R.J., Rodewald, A.D. & Senner, N.R. Environmental heterogeneity and biotic interactions as potential drivers of spatial patterning of shorebird nests. Landscape Ecol 32, 1689–1703 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-017-0536-5

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Keywords

  • Habitat selection
  • Limosa haemastica
  • Predation risk
  • Spatial aggregation
  • Ripley’s K