Reproductive success of Tree Pipits Anthus trivialis in relation to habitat selection in conifer plantations
Aspects of the reproductive success of Tree Pipits Anthus trivialis were examined in relation to broad-scale habitat and nest-site selection in Thetford Forest, a coniferous plantation forest in eastern England. Three habitat classes were defined corresponding to previously reported densities of Tree Pipits: clearfell and recently planted stands (habitat class A: low density), stands 2–5 years old (B: high density) and stands 6 years or older (C: low density). The preference for 2–5-year-old stands indicated by higher densities was supported by the timing of territory settlement. Tree Pipits also showed distinct preferences for nest-site characteristics that were relatively consistent across habitat classes and throughout the breeding season. At the ‘habitat scale’, results were consistent with the predictions of the ideal despotic distribution model. First clutches were laid significantly earlier in the preferred habitat class B. Overall nesting success (i.e. the proportion of nests producing fledglings), but not clutch size, also varied between habitats, being greater in habitat classes B and C than in habitat class A. The variation in overall nesting success between habitats was primarily driven by low nest survival rates during the laying/incubation period in clearfell and recently planted stands. Nest survival rates during the nestling period were lower in the preferred 2–5-year-old (and older) stands and declined over the course of the study. Preferences for nest-site characteristics (at least for those that were measured) provided no apparent benefit to nest survival rates. Overall nesting success thus appeared to be determined at the habitat scale, perhaps because the broad differences in cover between habitats affected the likelihood of nest predation (the main cause of nest failure). It is suggested that the very low nesting success experienced by Tree Pipits in clearfell and new stands may be one factor in the species’ relative avoidance of this habitat and preference for 2–5-year-old stands.