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Reed Parrotbill nest predation by tidal mudflat crabs: Evidence for an ecological trap?

Li, D and Sun, X and Lloyd, H and Que, P and Liu, Y and Wan, D and Zhang, Z (2015) Reed Parrotbill nest predation by tidal mudflat crabs: Evidence for an ecological trap? ECOSPHERE, 6.

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Abstract

Understanding the relationships between nesting habitat quality and predation risk is essential for developing appropriate conservation management for threatened species. This is particularly relevant where anthropogenic pressures could decouple the environmental cues used by birds to assess nesting habitat quality from increased predation risk. In this study, we conducted a series of surveys and nest experiments to examine the nest predation rates of Reed Parrotbill (Paradoxornis heudei ) a passerine bird between inland and tidal reed-bed wetland habitats, at Yellow River Delta National Nature Reserve, Eastern China during 2008, and 2010–2012. We found significant differences in the habitat structural characteristics between the two adjacent wetland habitats that are critical for Reed Parrotbill nest-site selection. Experimental trials using recently constructed and abandoned Reed Parrotbill nests as ‘artificial nests, quail eggs and predator-exclusion measures, revealed that tidal mudflat crab (Helice tientsinensis) was the primary cause of Reed Parrotbill egg predation in tidal reed-bed habitat. Annual predation rates of real nests from inland reed-bed habitat varied from 35% to 68%, and predation rates of artificial nests were much lower than those from real nests. Pitfall sampling revealed that the abundance of tidal mudflat crabs was significantly higher in tidal reed-bed habitat. Our data suggested that Reed Parrotbills breeding in tidal reed-bed habitats may be highly vulnerable due to extremely high rates of nest predation (up to 100%), caused primarily by the high density of tidal mudflat crabs. The incongruence between nest-site habitat preference and nest survival indicated an ecological trap scenario, which requires further studies on its proximate and ultimate causes as well as the development of effective conservation management for the Reed Parrotbill.

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