Nesting success of understory forest birds central Panama

W. Douglas Robinson, Tara Rodden Robinson, Scott K. Robinson, Jeffrey D. Brawn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Greater nest predation in tropical than temperate birds has been hypothesized to be a primary selective force generating latitudinal differences in avian life history traits. Few extensive data sets, however, have been available from tropical forests to compare with data from temperate forests. To increase the amount of empirical information available for addressing issues related to the evolution of life history traits of tropical birds, we measured the nesting success of understory birds in lowland forest of central Panama. We found and monitored the fates of 696 nests of 71 species over two breeding seasons. Daily nest predation rates for the ten species for which we obtained the largest samples ranged from 1.6 to 8.3%, equivalent to a loss of 43 to 92% of nests. These values overlapped extensively the range of daily predation rates experienced by ecologically similar species in North America. Proportion of nests fledging young, estimated with the Mayfield method, was significantly lower in tropical (range: 8 to 57%) than temperate (27 to 60%) species. Nesting success in Panama varied among years, however, being greater in 1996 than 1997. In 1996, nesting success was similar to that of species breeding in forest fragments of midwestern North America. When compared with success of nests in large, contiguous forest tracts of North America, however, tropical avian nesting success was consistently lower by approximately 23%. We conclude that nesting success in central Panama may be poor in most breeding seasons, but also may be punctuated by occasional years of relatively exceptional success, a possibility heretofore unappreciated because of a general paucity of data from the tropics. Furthermore, our results indicate substantial variation in levels of nesting success among species, and almost no variation in clutch size. Such large interspecific variation, as well as potentially large annual variation, in nesting success does not support the hypothesis that uniformly low levels of nesting success select for small tropical clutch sizes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)151-164
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Avian Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2000
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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