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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-headed 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.Resumen: La atracción conespecífica, tendencia de los individuos de una especie a establecerse cerca de otro de la misma especie, está bien descrita en especies coloniales, especialmente aves. Aunque este comportamiento puede ocurrir en aves territoriales, se carece de evidencia. Si aves territoriales muestran este comportamiento, tendría implicaciones mayores en la conservación. Las aves potencialmente serían atraídas a sitios específicos mediante estímulos artificiales, haciendo más eficiente la conservación de esas especies. En 2001 y 2002, probamos si ocurre la atracción conespecífica en una especie de ave canora territorial, en peligro, Vireo atricapilla, con la reproducción de vocalizaciones de vireo en hábitats desocupados en Fort Hood, Texas. Tuvimos éxito al atraer a 73 aves a cinco sitios experimentales en 2001 y 75 aves a siete sitios experimentales en 2002. No se establecieron aves en sitios controles comparables. Muchas de las aves atraídas a las vocalizaciones formaron pareja y se reprodujeron. En la mayoría de los sitios, la principal amenaza para la especie, el parásito Molothrus ater, fue controlada, lo que permitió un elevado éxito de anidación a los vireos en comparación con una población no manipulada cercana. Las aves de dos años tuvieron mayor respuesta a las vocalizaciones conespecíficas que las aves más viejas, porque fueron más comunes en los sitios experimentales que en la población establecida. En 2002 aves recolonizaron sitios experimentales de 2001 en los que no se reprodujeron vocalizaciones en 2002, lo que indica que 1 año de repetición de vocalizaciones puede ser suficiente para establecer una población. Nuestros resultados proporcionan las primeras pruebas experimentales de que aves canoras territoriales utilizan la presencia de conespecíficos al decidir donde se establecen y sugieren que la atracción conespecífica puede ser una valiosa herramienta de conservación.

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