Songbirds Find Success Nesting in Non-Native Shrubs, according to Study Led by Bard College Student and Biology Professor
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. – When birds or other animals makes choices that are harmful for themselves—by reducing their lifespan or reproductive success, for example—this is known as an “evolutionary trap.” While there is concern that birds that prefer to build their nests in non-native plant species will have less successful nests and risk falling into such a trap, a new study—led by Bard College student Lydia Meyer ’14 and Bard biology professor Bruce Robertson and published today in The Condor: Ornithological Advances—found that not to be the case for veery thrushes (Catharus fuscescens) who preferred to nest in invasive shrubs in the forests of New York. Their nesting success was not adversely affected at all.
“While it is disappointing that exotic understory plants are displacing their native counterparts in forests throughout the northeastern United States, it is encouraging to see that at least one native bird is able to use these exotic replacements as safe locations to place a nest,” said Robertson. “The veeries’ choice to nest in non-native shrubs wasn’t bad for them after all—instead, they were just taking advantage of a new suitable habitat.”
Meyer, who worked on the study as a Bard undergraduate, Robertson, and Kenneth Schmidt of Texas Tech University and the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies monitored 84 veery nests during the spring 2013 breeding season in a forest at the Cary Institute in Millbrook, New York, where invasive shrubs such as honeysuckle, barberry, and wild rose are abundant. They recorded a variety of characteristics related to nest locations, including nest height and visibility, the type of plant a nest was placed in, and the type of vegetation within a five-meter radius around the nest.
“Meyer et al. provide a critical test of whether non-native plant species can act as ecological traps for nesting birds,” said Anna Chalfoun of the University of Wyoming, an expert on wildlife–habitat relationships. “Nest site preferences in birds evolve over time based upon nest survival rates in different habitats, and may be confounded by the novel cues introduced by non-native plants. Interestingly, in the example of the Veery, Meyer et al. conclude that parents were able to exploit the novel nesting sites provided by non-native plants, with no apparent effects on the probability of nest survival.”
“Exotic plants as evolutionary traps for nesting Veeries” is available at: http://www.aoucospubs.org/doi/full/10.1650/CONDOR-14-101.1.
For more information, contact Bruce Robertson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the journal: The Condor: Ornithological Applications is a peer-reviewed, international journal of ornithology. The journal began in 1899 as the journal of the Cooper Ornithological Club, a group of ornithologists in California that became the Cooper Ornithological Society.
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