Linking foraging decisions to residential yard bird composition

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Abstract

Urban bird communities have higher densities but lower diversity compared with wildlands. However, recent studies show that residential urban yards with native plantings have higher native bird diversity compared with yards with exotic vegetation. Here we tested whether landscape designs also affect bird foraging behavior. We estimated foraging decisions by measuring the giving-up densities (GUD; amount of food resources remaining when the final forager quits foraging on an artificial food patch, i.e seed trays) in residential yards in Phoenix, AZ, USA. We assessed how two yard designs (mesic: lush, exotic vegetation; xeric: drought-tolerant and native vegetation) differed in foraging costs. Further, we developed a statistical model to calculate GUDs for every species visiting the seed tray. Birds foraging in mesic yards depleted seed trays to a lower level (i.e. had lower GUDs) compared to birds foraging in xeric yards. After accounting for bird densities, the lower GUDs in mesic yards appeared largely driven by invasive and synanthropic species. Furthermore, behavioral responses of individual species were affected by yard design. Species visiting trays in both yard designs had lower GUDs in mesic yards. Differences in resource abundance (i.e., alternative resources more abundant and of higher quality in xeric yards) contributed to our results, while predation costs associated with foraging did not. By enhancing the GUD, a common method for assessing the costs associated with foraging, our statistical model provided insights into how individual species and bird densities influenced the GUD. These differences we found in foraging behavior were indicative of differences in habitat quality, and thus our study lends additional support for native landscapes to help reverse the loss of urban bird diversity. © 2012 Lerman et al.

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Lerman, S. B., Warren, P. S., Gan, H., & Shochat, E. (2012). Linking foraging decisions to residential yard bird composition. PLoS ONE, 7(8). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0043497

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