Who is in the neighborhood? Conspecific and heterospecific responses to perceived density for breeding habitat selection

Janice K. Kelly, Scott J. Chiavacci, Thomas J. Benson, Michael P. Ward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Theoretical models of habitat selection often incorporate negative density dependence. Despite strong negative density-dependent effects on habitat selection, more recent studies indicate that animals settle near members of their own (conspecific) and other species (heterospecific) when selecting habitat with social cues. Social cue use for habitat selection is particularly common among songbirds, but few studies have investigated if songbirds use social cues to assess conspecific or heterospecific density (as opposed to just presence/absence) when making settlement decisions. We conducted a playback experiment to evaluate if yellow warblers (Setophaga petechia) and willow flycatchers (Empidonax traillii), two potential competitors for breeding habitat, use social cues to assess density (conspecific for warblers and heterospecific for flycatchers) when selecting breeding locations at two spatial scales. We simulated yellow warbler density to be high or low at multiple treatment plots (3.14 ha) with song playback and then evaluated settlement decisions by comparing yellow warbler and willow flycatcher abundances across plots (broad-scale habitat selection) and individual space use within plots (fine-scale territory establishment). Yellow warbler density treatments did not affect habitat selection by yellow warblers at the broad scale, but caused individuals to cluster territories at high-density treatments. Willow flycatchers were most abundant at high-density treatment plots, but yellow warbler density treatments did not affect territory locations. The results indicate that perceived density affects the habitat selection process for both conspecifics and heterospecifics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)269-278
Number of pages10
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2018


  • conspecific attraction
  • density dependence
  • heterospecific attraction
  • social cues
  • social information use
  • songbirds

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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