Carol Jansky, Biology
Background: An ecological trap is typically defined as a low-quality habitat, incapable of sustaining a population, which is preferred over a high quality habitat. Ecological traps may lead to species extinction in populations with 1) strict habitat requirements 2) minimal information about the habitat, and 3) low population size. Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) meet the former two of these criteria.
Methods: We monitored Tree Swallow (TS) nest boxes (n=90) at two ecologically similar sites A and B with similar occupancy rates. Site B has lower reproductive fitness —suggestive of an ecological trap. Binary logistic regression was used to identify whether TS in better condition preferred site A or B and what environmental characteristics predicted nest box occupancy.
Results: Site A’s Tree Swallows were in significantly better condition and laid eggs earlier than site B’s TS. Significant predictors of nest box occupancy include distance from nearest box (p=0.000), DBH of largest stem in adjacent wooded area (p=0.026).
Conclusion: Tree Swallows seemingly recognized site A to be a superior breeding habitat over site B, suggesting that site B is a sink rather than an ecological trap. Distance from an adjacent box was an important predictor of occupancy, possibly to reduce extra-pair mating or depredation. TS favored nest boxes adjacent to an edge with smaller stems which may lessen competition by birds a nesting in naturally occurring cavities along hardwood edges. Although not a significant predictor of occupation, the average distance from the edge was greater at Site A (p = 0.012). It is possible that distance from the edge is a habitat cue utilized by Tree Swallows, independent of whether hetero- or conspecifics might be nesting in nearby natural cavities.
Pathoulas, James T. and Noyes, Nicole E., "Sink or ecological trap for tree swallows in Central Minnesota?" (2014). Celebrating Scholarship & Creativity Day. 21.