Contrast in Edge Vegetation Structure Modifies the Predation Risk of Natural Ground Nests in an Agricultural Landscape


Nest predation risk generally increases nearer forest-field edges in agricultural landscapes. However, few studies test whether differences in edge contrast (i.e. hard versus soft edges based on vegetation structure and height) affect edge-related predation patterns and if such patterns are related to changes in nest conspicuousness between incubation and nestling feeding. Using data on 923 nesting attempts we analyse factors influencing nest predation risk at different edge types in an agricultural landscape of a ground-cavity breeding bird species, the Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe). As for many other bird species, nest predation is a major determinant of reproductive success in this migratory passerine. Nest predation risk was higher closer to woodland and crop field edges, but only when these were hard edges in terms of ground vegetation structure (clear contrast between tall vs short ground vegetation). No such edge effect was observed at soft edges where adjacent habitats had tall ground vegetation (crop, ungrazed grassland). This edge effect on nest predation risk was evident during the incubation stage but not the nestling feeding stage. Since wheatear nests are depredated by ground-living animals our results demonstrate: (i) that edge effects depend on edge contrast, (ii) that edge-related nest predation patterns vary across the breeding period probably resulting from changes in parental activity at the nest between the incubation and nestling feeding stage. Edge effects should be put in the context of the nest predator community as illustrated by the elevated nest predation risk at hard but not soft habitat edges when an edge is defined in terms of ground vegetation. These results thus can potentially explain previously observed variations in edge-related nest predation risk.

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0031517

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@inproceedings{Schneider2012ContrastIE, title={Contrast in Edge Vegetation Structure Modifies the Predation Risk of Natural Ground Nests in an Agricultural Landscape}, author={Nicole Anja Schneider and Matthew Low and Debora Arlt and Tomas P{\"a}rt}, booktitle={PloS one}, year={2012} }