Wetenschappelijk artikelLove thy neighbour?-Spatial variation in density dependence of nest survival in relation to predator community

Aim In many species, density-dependent effects on reproduction are an important driver of population dynamics. However, it is rarely considered that the direction of density dependence is expected to vary over space and time depending on anti-predator behaviour and predator community. Aggregation may allow for effective group mobbing against avian nest predators while aggregation may also attract mammalian predators, causing negative density dependence. We aim to quantify spatial variation in the effect of conspecific breeding density on nest survival in a mobbing bird species (Eurasian oystercatcher; Haematopus ostralegus) and identify whether this variation in density dependence can be explained by the predator community. Location Country-wide (The Netherlands). Methods We integrated reproductive data with breeding territory maps of Eurasian oystercatchers and occupancy maps of avian and mammalian predator species across the Netherlands for a 10-year period. Results Spatial variation in the composition of the predator community explained the effects of neighbour density, showing decreasing nest survival when both conspecific density and mammalian dominance increased. Also, heterospecific density (from breeding godwits and lapwing) has an additional effect on the oystercatcher nest survival. Strikingly, this pattern did not extend to mammal-free island populations. Main conclusions Our study provides evidence that both the strength and sign of density dependence can vary spatially within species, implying that it is dangerous to generalize results from a single local population to large-scale management implications and modelling exercises. The study also suggests that conservation actions that aim to attract breeding birds should be prioritized in areas with fewer mammalian predators, but this idea requires further testing on island populations.

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