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    Contrary to assumptions of habitat selection theory, fi eld studies frequently detect ‘ ecological traps ’ , where animals prefer habitats conferring lower fi tness than available alternatives. Evidence for traps includes cases where birds prefer breeding habitats associated with relatively high nest predation rates despite the importance of nest survival to avian fi tness. Because birds select breeding habitat at multiple spatial scales, the processes underlying traps for birds are likely scale-dependent. We studied a potential ecological trap for a population of yellow warblers Dendroica petechia while paying specific attention to spatial scale. We quantifi ed nest microhabitat preference by comparing nest- versus random-site microhabitat structure and related preferred microhabitat features with nest survival. Over a nine-year study period and three study sites, we found a consistently negative relationship between preferred microhabitat patches and nest survival rates. Data from experimental nests described a similar relationship, corroborating the apparent positive relationship between preferred microhabitat and nest predation. As do other songbirds, yellow warblers select breeding habitat in at least two steps at two spatial scales; (1) they select territories at a coarser spatial scale and (2) nest microhabitats at a fi ner scale from within individual territories. By comparing nest versus random sites within territories, we showed that maladaptive nest microhabitat preferences arose during within-territory nest site selection (step 2). Furthermore, nest predation rates varied at a fi ne enough scale to provide individual yellow warblers with lower-predation alternatives to preferred microhabitats. Given these results, tradeoffs between nest survival and other fi tness components are unlikely since fi tness components other than nest survival are probably more relevant to territory-scale habitat selection. Instead, exchanges of individuals among populations facing diff erent predation regimes, the recent proliferation of the parasitic brown-headed cowbird Molothrus ater , and/or anthropogenic changes to riparian vegetation structure are more likely explanations.

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    Latif, Quresh S.; Heath, Sacha K.; Rotenberry, John T. 2011. An 'ecological trap' for yellow warbler nest microhabitat selection. Oikos 120: 1139-1150.


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    yellow warblers, Dendroica petechia, nest selection

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