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Conspecific Attraction and the Conservation of Territorial Songbirds

Program in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 61820, Champaign, IL
Conservation Biology (Impact Factor: 4.32). 03/2004; 18(2):519 - 525. DOI: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2004.00494.x

ABSTRACT Conspecific attraction, the tendency for individuals of a species to settle near one another, is well described in colonial species, especially birds. Although this behavior may occur in territorial birds, evidence has been lacking. If territorial birds do exhibit this behavior, it would have major conservation implications. Birds could potentially be attracted to specific sites with artificial stimuli, making conservation of those species more efficient. In 2001 and 2002, we tested whether conspecific attraction occurs in an endangered, territorial songbird, the Black-capped Vireo (Vireo atricapilla) by playing vireo vocalizations in unoccupied habitats at Fort Hood, Texas. We were successful in attracting 73 birds to five experimental sites in 2001 and 75 birds to seven experimental sites in 2002. No birds settled on comparable control sites. Many birds attracted to the vocalizations paired and bred. At most research sites the primary threat to the species, the brood-parasitic Brown-beaded Cowbird (Molothrus ater), was controlled, allowing vireos to achieve high nesting success relative to a nearby, unmanipulated population. Second-year birds were more responsive to conspecific vocalizations than older birds, as they were more common on experimental sites than in the established population. In 2002 birds recolonized experimental sites from 2001 where vocalizations were not played in 2002, indicating that 1 year of playbacks may be sufficient to establish a population. Our results provide the first experimental evidence that territorial songbirds use the presence of conspecifics when deciding where to settle and suggest that conspecific attraction may provide a valuable conservation tool.

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    • "Similar patterns are found across a broad range of animal taxa, including lizards, birds and mammals (Stamps 1988 , Hoeck 1989 , Weddell 1991 , Gautier et al. 2006 ). The influence on population dynamics can lead to aggregation of territories, empty suitable habitat and increased extinction risk of patches (Ward and Schlossberg 2004 ). Beyond considerations of habitat management, conspecific attraction could be used to actively manipulate spatial distribution for conservation purposes (Ahlering et al. 2010 ). "
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