Habitat selection and potential fitness consequences of two early‐successional species with differing life‐history strategies


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Habitat selection and its relationship to fitness is a fundamental concept in ecology, but the mechanisms driving this connection are complex and difficult to detect. Despite the difficulties in understanding such intricate relationships, it is imperative that we study habitat selection and its relationship with fitness. We compared habitat selection of least terns (Sternula antillarum) and piping plovers (Charadrius melodus) on the Missouri River (2012–2014) to examine the consequences of those choices on nest and chick survival. We hypothesized that plovers and terns would select habitat that minimized the chance of flooding and predation of eggs, chicks, and adults, but that plovers would also select habitat that would provide foraging habitat for their chicks. We developed an integrated habitat selection model that assessed selection across multiple scales (sandbar and nest scales) and directly modeled the effect of selection on nest and chick survival. In general, the species selected habitat in keeping with our hypotheses, such that predation and flooding, in particular, may have been reduced. Sandbar selection had either a negative or no appreciable effect on nest survival for both species across years. Nest‐site selection in 2012 had a generally positive effect on nest survival and chick survival for both terns and plovers, and this trended toward a negative effect by 2014. This result suggested that early selection decisions appeared to be adaptive, but we speculate that relatively high site fidelity and habitat degradation led to reduced benefit over time. Our results highlight the complex nature of habitat selection and its relationship to fitness.



demography, fitness, habitat selection, least tern, piping plover