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No evidence for observer effects on Lark Sparrow nest survival

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Methods for monitoring bird nests might influence rates of nest predation, but the effects of various methods (e.g., visual markers and observer visitation rates) are often separately investigated among disparate avian taxa and geographic regions. Few investigators have explored the potential effects observers might have on nest success of grassland birds, despite concerns regarding population declines of these species in North America. We examined the possible effects of three monitoring techniques on daily nest survival of Lark Sparrows (Chondestes grammacus): (1) presence or absence of visible markers near nests, (2) observer visitation frequency, and (3) presence or absence of data loggers in nests. We monitored 113 Lark Sparrow nests during the 2009 breeding season. Of these nests, 88.5% failed due to predation, abandonment, weather, or unknown causes, yielding an overall nest success estimate of 9.8% based on daily survival estimation. Main effects of each monitoring technique appeared in top (ΔAICc <2) logistic exposure models. However, 95% confidence intervals around parameter estimates for each technique included zero, indicating no significant effects on daily nest survival. Our results suggest that the nest-monitoring techniques we used had no effect on Lark Sparrow nest success and, if true, nest survival of other songbirds in arid grasslands of the Great Plains may also be unaffected by cautious nest monitoring. However, we cannot rule out the possibility that any effects of the various techniques in our study were masked by locally intense nest predation. Therefore, additional study is needed to determine if there may be observable variation in nest survival among various nest-monitoring treatments in other areas of the southern Great Plains where nest predation is less frequent.
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Keywords: Chondestes grammacus; Lark Sparrow; nest markers; nest survival; observer effects; shortgrass prairie

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa 50011, USA 2: Natural and Mathematical Sciences, Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, Pomona, New Jersey 08201, USA 3: Department of Biological Sciences, Emporia State University, Emporia, Kansas 66801, USA

Publication date: June 1, 2011

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