Interspecific information on predation risk affects nest site choice in a passerine bird

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BioMed Central

Abstract Background Breeding site choice constitutes an important part of the species niche. Nest predation affects breeding site choice, and has been suggested to drive niche segregation and local coexistence of species. Interspecific social information use may, in turn, result in copying or rejection of heterospecific niche characteristics and thus affect realized niche overlap between species. We tested experimentally whether a migratory bird, the pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca, collects information about nest predation risk from indirect cues of predators visiting nests of heterospecific birds. Furthermore, we investigated whether the migratory birds can associate such information with a specific nest site characteristic and generalize the information to their own nest site choice. Results Our results demonstrate that flycatchers can use the fate of heterospecific nesting attempts in their own nest site choice, but do so selectively. Young flycatcher females, when making the decision quickly, associated the fate of an artificial nest with nest-site characteristics and avoided the characteristic associated with higher nest predation risk. Conclusions Copying nest site choices of successful heterospecifics, and avoiding choices which led to failed attempts, may amplify or counter effects of nest predation on niche overlap, with important consequences for between-species niche divergence-convergence dynamics, species coexistence and predator-prey interactions.