Local conspecific density does not influence reproductive output in a secondary cavity-nesting songbird

Jeffrey P. Hoover, Nicole M. Davros, Wendy M. Schelsky, Jeffrey D. Brawn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Density dependence is a conceptual cornerstone of avian population biology and, in territorial songbirds, past research has emphasized interactions among food limitation, density, and reproduction. Documenting the importance of density effects is central to understanding how selective forces shape life histories and population dynamics. During the 2008-2011 breeding seasons, we nearly doubled overall conspecific breeding densities on study sites, and manipulated nest box spacing to increase local breeding densities (defined as the number of pairs breeding within 200 m of a pair's nest) of a secondary cavity-nesting songbird, the Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea). Our primary objective was to test for effects of food limitation, as mediated by conspecific local densities, on measures of productivity. We monitored breeding pairs and recorded the total number of fledglings produced along with several components of reproductive output (clutch size, hatching success, nestling survival, and probability of attempting a second brood), rates of nestling provisioning, and nestling body condition prior to fledging. We predicted that if the availability of food were affected by local densities, then one or more of these parameters measuring reproduction would be affected negatively. We did not detect an effect of local density on total reproductive output or its components despite our vast range of local densities (1-27 pairs; i.e. 0.16-2.23 pairs ha-1). Further, we also did not detect differences in nestling provisioning rates and nestling body condition relative to local density. By breeding in a productive ecosystem rich in food resources, these warblers appear to avoid reduced reproductive output when breeding in high densities. Whereas density-dependent food limitation may commonly reduce reproductive output in many species, the ecological circumstances underlying when it does not occur merit further investigation and may provide new insights into what is driving territoriality and what are the primary factors affecting individual fitness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberukaa002
Pages (from-to)1-15
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2020


  • conspecific density
  • density dependence
  • food limitation
  • hatching success
  • nestling body condition
  • nestling provisioning
  • prothonotary warbler
  • reproductive output

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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