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Oecologia. 2012 Jul;169(3):695-702. doi: 10.1007/s00442-011-2228-1. Epub 2011 Dec 18.

Density-dependent nest predation in waterfowl: the relative importance of nest density versus nest dispersion.

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Department of Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology, University of California, One Shields Ave., Davis, CA 95616, USA.


When nest predation levels are very high or very low, the absolute range of observable nest success is constrained (a floor/ceiling effect), and it may be more difficult to detect density-dependent nest predation. Density-dependent nest predation may be more detectable in years with moderate predation rates, simply because there can be a greater absolute difference in nest success between sites. To test this, we replicated a predation experiment 10 years after the original study, using both natural and artificial nests, comparing a year when overall rates of nest predation were high (2000) to a year with moderate nest predation (2010). We found no evidence for density-dependent predation on artificial nests in either year, indicating that nest predation is not density-dependent at the spatial scale of our experimental replicates (1-ha patches). Using nearest-neighbor distances as a measure of nest dispersion, we also found little evidence for "dispersion-dependent" predation on artificial nests. However, when we tested for dispersion-dependent predation using natural nests, we found that nest survival increased with shorter nearest-neighbor distances, and that neighboring nests were more likely to share the same nest fate than non-adjacent nests. Thus, at small spatial scales, density-dependence appears to operate in the opposite direction as predicted: closer nearest neighbors are more likely to be successful. We suggest that local nest dispersion, rather than larger-scale measures of nest density per se, may play a more important role in density-dependent nest predation.

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