Date of Award:
Master of Science (MS)
Michael R. Conover
Predation by olfactory meso-predators has a large impact on avian nest success, particularly for ground-nesting waterfowl. Olfactory predators rely on odors to locate their prey. Weather conditions (e.g. wind speed, humidity, and temperature), vegetation, and landscape features affect the dissipation rate of odors and could affect the foraging efficiency of olfactory predators. I conducted 2 studies to determine if weather and landscape impact predator foraging ability and behavior: a predator survey study and an artificial nest study. The objective of the predator survey was to investigate how landscape and weather conditions interact to influence the distribution of olfactory meso-predators [e.g. red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), skunks (Mephitis mephitis), and raccoons (Procyon lotor)] in their nightly foraging on the dike. Specifically, I examined how wind speed, wind orientation, temperature, and humidity affect the distribution, number, and species of olfactory meso-predators foraging on the Arthur V. Watkins Dike at Willard Bay State Park and Reservoir. The objective of the artificial nest study was to determine if weather, vegetation, or nest location relative to a large-scale surface feature have an effect on survival of artificial ground-nests in an area dominated by olfactory meso-predators. Artificial nests were placed on the dike throughout the summer of 2009. Spotlighting surveys for predators were conducted from August 2008 to August 2009. I found that section of the dike, time since study initiation, terrain type on the dike, wind speed, and vegetation height during daylight hours affected nest survival. The results indicated that predators formed olfactory search images in that nest survival decreased over the summer, while predator populations remained constant. I observed foxes, skunks, and raccoons while spotlighting for predators. After accounting for time, wind speed and direction were significant predictors of predators' nightly foraging activity with most predators observed when wind speeds were 2 to 4 m/s and winds were blowing from the northwest. Overall the model accounted for 75% of the nightly variation in predator numbers. Additionally, wind speed and direction impacted where predators were foraging. There were interspecific differences among predators in their responses to wind speed with raccoons being observed more than skunks and foxes when the wind was calm and blowing from the south. The results of the spotlighting data indicate that wind speed and direction have a strong effect on foraging activity. Overall, I concluded that wind speed affects predator foraging ability and behavior.
Dritz, Rebekah E., "The Influence of Landscape and Weather on Foraging by Olfactory Meso-predators in Utah" (2010). All Graduate Theses and Dissertations. Paper 725.
Copyright for this work is retained by the student.