Demography of a Ground Nesting Bird in an Urban System: Are Populations Self-Sustaining?

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Urban Ecosystems

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Urbanization poses threats to earth’s biota, and retention of remnant native habitat in protected areas within expanding urban boundaries may help alleviate threats to wildlife. However, it is unclear for nearly all nonsynanthropic (i.e., not benefiting from an association with humans) species whether vital rates in urban habitats can sustain populations or if populations persist only through immigration from outside the urban boundary. We conducted a three-year study of spotted towhees (Aves: Pipilo maculatus) breeding in four undeveloped parks in Portland, OR, USA, to measure park-specific seasonal reproductive output (F) and annual adult survival (SA). We developed a stochastic model that combined F and SA with an estimate of first-year survival to measure population growth rate (λ) in all parks assumed to be closed to immigration. F differed among parks but SA did not. Relatively high F was possible because many pairs raised >1 brood/season. When combined with empirical estimates of survival through the 30-day period of post-fledging parental care (SD = 0.645), only 2 of 4 parks were self-sustaining (i.e., λ > 1.0). However, SD reflected substantial loss of fledglings to domestic cats (Felis catus). Assuming no loss to cats and either partial compensatory or additive mortality of fledglings substantially improved prospects of population persistence for declining (sink) populations. Moreover, allowing low levels of immigration to sinks reversed population declines in most parks even when vital rates were insufficient to maintain populations. Our results suggest that nonsynanthropic bird species can persist in urban landscapes, but also that offspring mortality in the post-fledging period may be a critical determinant of population viability.



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