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Nest predation on forest songbirds in a western boreal forest landscape altered by energy sector linear features Open Access


Other title
nesting success
video monitoring
red squirrel
nest predation
edge effect
boreal forest songbirds
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Ball, Jeffrey R
Supervisor and department
Bayne, Erin (Biological Sciences)
Examining committee member and department
Nol, Erica (Biology Department)
St. Clair, Colleen (Biological Sciences)
Boutin, Stan (Biological Sciences)
Boyce, Mark (Biological Sciences)
Department of Biological Sciences
Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Nest predation is a major source of reproductive failure for many species of songbirds. Habitat fragmentation by human land use creates edge habitat that can alter predator-prey dynamics, create ecological traps, and reduce the amount of high quality habitat available for sustaining bird populations. I studied the nesting success of boreal forest songbirds in two regions of western Canada fragmented by pipelines, seismic lines, and service roads. These linear features result in relatively little forest loss but create vast amounts of edge. Our ability to predict the effect of these edges is hampered by incomplete or inaccurate knowledge about what predators depredate nests and how those predators respond to edges. My objective was to determine if edges were negatively impacting songbird nest success through increased rates of nest predation and whether birds were preferentially using habitats with higher reproductive potential. Using video monitoring, I identified 11 species of nest predators at 71 songbird nests. Red squirrels were the dominant nest predator in both regions and all predators were endemic boreal species rather than non-forest species. I did not find strong evidence that the spatial distribution or probability of nest predation by the majority of nest predators was strongly affected by edge proximity. Of all the predators monitored, only bears and deer mice were more common near edges but they depredated few nests. I also did not find strong support for a negative edge effect of linear features on songbird nest fate (n = 571 nests) relative to forest interiors. Ground nest survival was marginally higher near edges and ground and shrub nest survival was marginally higher where squirrels were absent. In contrast, the survival of canopy nests was higher away from the edge and in the presence of squirrels. Abundance of singing males and nest fate of each guild responded similarly to edges and squirrels indicating birds are preferentially using habitats with higher reproductive potential. Uncertainties in field-based estimates of nesting success and other important demographic parameters prevent me from concluding that higher quality habitats are capable of sustaining the local population.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
Citation for previous publication
Ball JR, Bayne EM. 2012. Using video monitoring to assess the accuracy of nest fate and nest productivity estimates by field observation. Auk 129:438-448.Ball JR, Bayne EM, Machtans CS. 2009. Energy sector edge effects on songbird nest fate and productivity in the boreal forest of western Canada: a preliminary analysis. Proceedings of the Fourth International Partners in Flight Conference, McAllen, Texas, p.161-170.Ball JR, Bayne EM, Machtans CS. 2009. Video identification of boreal forest songbird nest predators and discordance with artificial nest studies. Proceedings of the Fourth International Partners in Flight Conference, McAllen, Texas, p. 37-44.

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