Avian fitness consequences match habitat selection at the nest-site and landscape scale in agriculturally fragmented landscapes

Bryan M. Reiley, Thomas J. Benson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Habitat selection theory suggests that when choosing breeding sites, animals should choose the best available habitat; however, studies show that individuals fail to choose habitats that maximize their fitness especially in drastically altered landscapes. Many studies have focused on selection at single scales, often using a single measure of fitness. However, links between habitat selection and fitness may vary depending on the spatial scale and measure of fitness, especially in situations where agricultural land use has altered the surrounding landscape. We examined multiscale habitat selection and fitness measures of the Bell's Vireo (Vireo bellii) and Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii) using data collected in agriculturally fragmented landscapes. We found evidence for selection of nest sites with dense understory, larger patches, and increasing restored habitat cover and decreasing forest cover in the surrounding landscape. For both focal species, selection for dense understory significantly increased nest survival; however, there appeared to be no concurrent benefit for fledgling production. Selection for broader scale features positively influenced nest survival for the Willow Flycatcher with no concurrent benefit for fledgling production. The observed mismatches may be due to anthropogenic habitat fragmentation at broader scales or may represent reproductive trade-offs for a fitness benefit not measured in this study. Fine-scale habitat selection decisions by our focal species appear to match fitness outcomes, whereas habitat selection at broader scales only provided fitness benefits for the Willow Flycatcher. Though providing no fledgling production benefit, when combined with suitably dense nesting habitat, larger patches in landscapes with greater amounts of restored habitat cover for Bell's Vireo and lower amounts of forest cover for Willow Flycatcher will produce more fledglings per unit area than smaller patches in landscapes with less restored habitat and more forest cover, respectively, which could help inform conservation decisions for these at-risk species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7173-7183
Number of pages11
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jun 2019


  • Bell's Vireo
  • Willow Flycatcher
  • fitness
  • habitat selection
  • landscape
  • nest site
  • patch size

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation

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