Ecology of the predator assemblage affecting nest success of passerines in Sierra Nevada, California
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The endangered willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii) breeds in mountain meadows in the Sierra Nevada, which have been intensively modified, especially reducing meadow wetness, which favors easy access for mammalian predators to reach nesting areas in the meadow interior. High nest predation frequency is one of the main factors for willow flycatcher and other passerines? populations decline. I conducted trapping in wet and dry areas on 10 meadows in May?August of 2007 and 2008 to identify the assemblage of potential mammalian nest predators. I compared the predator activity between wet and dry areas of the meadows and determined the relationship between predator activity with vegetation and hydrology of the meadows. In 2008, I used radio-telemetry on deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) and yellow-pine chipmunks (Tamias amoenus) to determine their movement patterns across wet and dry areas, and between forest and meadow. My results showed that chipmunks? and squirrels? activity was restricted almost to dry areas. The activity of yellow-pine chipmunks was 96% and 97% higher in dry versus wet areas in 2007 and 2008, respectively. Voles, mice, and shrews were active in both site types. Voles (Microtus spp.) and shrews (Sorex spp.) were in general more active in wet areas versus dry areas in 2007. Deer mice were equally active in both site types in 2007 and more active in wet areas in 2008. Between years, predators were 68% more active in wet areas in 2007 compared to 2008, and similarly 52% more active in dry areas. Radio-tagged deer mice used the forest and the meadow and were more common in dry areas, whereas yellowpine chipmunks used more the forest than the meadows and were active only in dry areas. Passerines nesting in drier areas are exposed to a larger assemblage of potential predators and are more likely to be predated. My results suggest that increasing the proportion of inundated areas in the meadows would help reduce predator activity (especially chipmunks and squirrels) and consequently nest predation, helping increase flycatcher numbers. In addition, wetter conditions will favor an increment in food availability for flycatchers and an increment in willow cover, which consequently will provide more nesting substrate and will help increase nest concealment.
Cocimano, Maria C. (2009). Ecology of the predator assemblage affecting nest success of passerines in Sierra Nevada, California. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from