The American Naturalist
Interspecific aggregations of prey may provide benefits by mitigating predation risk, but they can also create costs if they increase competition for resources or are more easily detectable by predators. Variation in predation risk and resource availability may influence the occurrence and fitness effects of aggregating in nature. Yet tests of such possibilities are lacking. Cavity-nesting birds provide an interesting test case. They compete aggressively for resources and experience low nest predation rates, which might predict dispersion, but across 19 years of study we found that they commonly aggregate by sharing nest trees. Tree sharing was more common when aspen were more abundant and was somewhat more common in years with higher nest predation risk. Nest success was higher in shared trees when nest predation risk was higher than average. Ultimately, the costs and benefits of aggregating (nest tree sharing) varied across years, and we outline hypotheses for future studies.
Mouton, J. C., and T. E. Martin. 2018. Fitness Consequences of Interspecific Nesting Associations among Cavity-Nesting Birds. The American Naturalist 192:389-396.