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Mast-producing trees and the geographical ecology of western scrub-jays

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We analyzed the relationship between population abundance and variability of western scrub-jays Aphelocoma californica based on 48 yr of Audubon Christmas Bird Counts and the resources on which they depend as indexed by the diversity and abundance of mast-producing oaks and pines and, for California, estimates of acorn production based on a statewide survey. In general, populations of A. c. californica along the Pacific coast were related to oaks, with populations being more abundant and more stable in areas with more oak species and greater oak abundance. In contrast, populations of A. c. woodhouseii in the Great Basin were correlated with pines/conifers, again with higher abundance and greater stability with increased number of pine species and greater abundance of pines/conifers. The presumed driver of these patterns is increased resource abundance with greater habitat abundance and increased resource stability with increasing species diversity due to asynchrony in seed production among different species of trees. Asynchrony in acorn production is particularly high among oaks that require different number of years to produce acorns, but we failed to confirm that populations with access to both types were more stable than those with access to only one type after controlling for oak diversity. However, we did find a strong positive correlation between overall mean scrub-jay abundance in California and overall acorn production one year earlier, suggesting that acorns benefit scrub-jay populations primarily by increasing reproductive success the following year. These patterns demonstrate the strong dependence between population dynamics and resource stability as well as how different these relationships can be within closely related taxa.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 2009

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