Date of Award:

1999

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Natural Resources

Department name when degree awarded

Wildlife Ecology

Advisor/Chair:

Raymond D. Dueser

Co-Advisor/Chair:

Michael R. Conover

Abstract

Nest success of dabbling ducks in the Prairie Pothole region of North America has been declining for the past 40 years in parallel with declines in duck populations. Low nest success seems to result from the combination of an extremely fragmented breeding ground in a human-dominated landscape with an abundant and expanding ii community of generalist nest predators. Studies that examined variables associated with nest vulnerability to predation have produced contradictory results, likely because of simplistic approaches, lack of spatio-temporal replication, use of artificial nests , and the effect of confounding variables. I attempted to clarify the equivocal findings of previous studies by using multiple regression to simultaneously examine the effect of several variables purportedly related to nest predation risk. I collected data on >1,800 dabbling duck nests and associated variables for 16 habitat patches (14 managed for duck production) during two nesting seasons in North Dakota.

At the habitat patch level, early and late in each breeding season, I studied the relationship of nest success and upland area, nest density, predator abundance and richness, abundance of alternative prey for predators, and visual and physical obstruction provided by the vegetation . At the spatial scale of the nest and its neighborhood, I examined the likelihood of nest predation in association to nest initiation date, year, distance from nest to a wetland and to an edge, vegetation type at the nest, visual obstruction and heterogeneity of the vegetation around the nest, duck nest species , predator abundance, and presence/absence of 5 carnivorous predators at the nest habitat patch. Nest success was generally low and highly variable in time, and among and within habitat patches. I found no relationship between nest success and any of the variables measured at the patch scale. At the nest level, only initiation date, distance to water, visual obstruction, predator abundance, and duck species had an effect. High variability in the data and the lack of patterns in the relationship of nest predation and the predictor variables precluded me from building a predictive model that explains nest success. Nest success could not be predicted, predation was incidental and risk was high, and there were no safe nest sites for hens to choose in a landscape swamped by nest predators . Nests were located randomly; therefore, there were no clues predators could use to enhance their success in finding nests.

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