CIE Spotlight: Regional drivers of clutch loss reveal important trade-offs for beach-nesting birds

Mike W.

Mike W.

Authors: Maslo, Brooke; Schlacher, Thomas A.; Weston, Michael A.; Huijbers, Chantal H.; Anderson, Chris; Gilby, Ben L.; Olds, Andrew D.; Connolly, Rod M.; Schoeman, David S.

Source: PEERJ, 4, SEP 13 2016

Brief summary of the paper: Coastal birds are critical ecosystem constituents on sandy shores, yet are threatened by depressed reproductive success resulting from direct and indirect anthropogenic and natural pressures. Few studies examine clutch fate across the wide range of environments experienced by birds; instead, most focus at the small site scale.

We examine survival of model shorebird clutches as an index of true clutch survival at a regional scale (~ 200 km), encompassing a variety of geomorphologies, predator communities, and human use regimes in southeast Queensland, Australia.

Of the 132 model nests deployed and monitored with cameras, 45 (34%) survived the experimental exposure period. Thirty-five (27%) were lost to flooding, 32 (24%) were depredated, 9 (7%) buried by sand, 7 (5%) destroyed by people, 3 (2%) failed by unknown causes, and 1 (0.1%) was destroyed by a dog. Clutch fate differed substantially among regions, particularly with respect to losses from flooding and predation.

‘Topographic’ exposure was the main driver of mortality of nests placed close to the drift line near the base of dunes, which were lost to waves (particularly during storms) and to a lesser extent depredation. Predators determined the fate of clutches not lost to waves, with the depredation probability largely influenced by region. Depredation probability declined as nests were backed by higher dunes and were placed closer to vegetation.

This study emphasizes the scale at which clutch fate and survival varies within a regional context, the prominence of corvids as egg predators, the significant role of flooding as a source of nest loss, and the multiple trade-offs faced by beach-nesting birds and those that manage them.