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Experimental evidence for the use of density based interspecific social information in forest birds

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Reproductive success and habitat preference are generally assumed to be negatively associated with densities of con- and heterospecific competitors. However, recent theoretical studies have suggested that in some cases habitat preference may have a nonlinear unimodal function in relation to con- or heterospecific competitor densities – intermediate densities being preferred. Such a pattern is expected if con- or heterospecific densities are used as a proximate cue in habitat selection, which may produce benefits by reducing searching costs and providing information about current habitat quality and costs of competition. At low density the use of such cues, and hence habitat selection, are hampered, whereas at high density costs of competition exceed the benefits of using cues, leading to avoidance. Here, we tested this hypothesis by examining whether arboreal migratory birds use the density of resident titmice (Parus spp.) in habitat selection decisions. Many migrants and titmice species share similar resource needs making titmice density a reliable source of information for migrants. At the scale of habitat patches, we experimentally created a range of titmice densities from low to very high and subsequently measured the density response of migrants. In contrast to the unimodal habitat preference hypothesis, the average species number and total density of migratory birds were positively and linearly correlated with manipulated titmice density. Thus, migrants probably use titmice density as a relative indicator of habitat quality (abundance or quality of food) because foliage gleaners that share similar food resource with titmice, but not ground foragers, showed a positive association with manipulated titmice density. These results emphasize the positive effect of interspecific social information on habitat choice decisions and diversity of migratory bird community.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2009

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