Landscape and life history: what factors influence condition in adult and nestling birds?

Loren Merrill, Thomsa Benson, Anne Barger

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


A major hurdle that birds face today is assessing nest-site locations in anthropogenically-altered landscapes. Some species appear to be resilient to these habitat changes, while others are more sensitive and disappear from heavily, and even moderately, impacted areas. Researchers have begun examining the mechanisms linked to avian population changes in human-altered landscapes, and much work has focused on the role of changes in nest predator communities. But the early-life environment is more than just a filter for survival; the conditions a bird experiences during development can shape its phenotype for the remainder of its life. If early-life conditions can program a bird’s phenotypic development, landscape-level changes may have population-level consequences for the birds using them. In this study we investigated the relationships between landscape features within 500 and 1000m of each bird’s nest, and aspects of condition in the adults and nestlings of five shrubland bird species across a habitat gradient from low to heavy human-impact. Our focal bird species were American robin, northern cardinal, field sparrow, brown thrasher, and grey catbird. We found that landscape features were significantly more important for nestlings than for adults in shaping aspects of condition (e.g., dietary metabolites, size, oxidative stress, white blood cell profiles, bacteria-killing ability). Moreover, we found that life-history patterns influenced the manner in which birds allocated resources during development, and likely play an important role in shaping how different species respond to human-induced changes to the landscape.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publication6th North American Ornithological Conference, 16-21 August, 2016, Washington, D.C.
StatePublished - 2016


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