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: 4.17). 03/2004; 18(2):519 - 525. DOI: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2004.00494.x


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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    • "Power was provided via a lead acid battery (18 Ah 12 V; Scooter) charged by a 50 W solar panel (Renology, RNG 50-P; MPPT charge controller, Genasun GV-5). Songs were housed on an SD card (mp3 format) and played at natural amplitude levels (85 ± 2 dB max amplitude SPL(A) at 1 m from the source; Casella 633 type 1 sound level meter; for natural sound levels see Brenowitz 1982, Brumm 2009) and time intervals (5–15 songs/min) during the hours of peak singing (30 min prior to sunrise—12:00 PM; similar to (Ward and Schlossberg 2004; Hahn and Silverman 2007). A 50-min playback loop was composed of an equal mixture of 1 min segments containing songs from individual species and 1 min mixed segments containing all 6 focal species singing simultaneously such that each remained individually distinguishable. "
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    ABSTRACT: The presence of conspecifics is an indicator of good habitat for a number of songbird species; a cue positively associated with territory selection. Thus, conspecific playback may be a cost-effective tool for attracting songbirds to particular, preselected sites of high-quality habitat. Previous studies have used conspecific playback to encourage the establishment of a single species; however, few have researched the potential for the simultaneous attraction of multiple species. Furthermore, empirical studies on the effect of song playback for nonfocal species are sparse. We investigated whether 6 migratory songbird species are more likely to establish nesting territories in response to multispecies playback. To evaluate the effect on the greater songbird community, we assessed the responses of 22 nonfocal species. Three of 6 focal species increased their use of areas near playback speakers, and none became less common. However, several nonfocal species were less likely to use playback sites. Phylogenetic comparison revealed that species closely related to playback species were those most likely to be affected. Our results suggest that conspecific attraction can be used to attract multiple songbird species simultaneously, but that its impact on nonfocal species should be considered before implementation.
    Behavioral Ecology 06/2015; DOI:10.1093/beheco/arv094 · 3.18 Impact Factor
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    • "Playback systems are relatively inexpensive and easy to construct, and require little maintenance effort. Playbacks have been used successfully in attracting several species of songbirds (including certain endangered species; Ward and Schlossberg 2004) to unoccupied but suitable habitat, and are now a valuable tool in avian management and conservation (Ahlering et al. 2010). Although we have only reported on the efficacy of playbacks for A. americanus and H. chrysoscelis, we expect that anuran species with comparable breeding ecologies to H. chrysoscelis may respond similarly to conspecific calls. "
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    ABSTRACT: Conspecific cues have been shown to influence habitat selection in many different species. In anurans, conspecific chorus sounds may facilitate location of new breeding ponds, but direct experimental evidence supporting this notion is lacking. We conducted an experimental field study on American toads (Anaxyrus americanus) and Cope’s gray tree frogs (Hyla chrysoscelis) to determine whether toads and tree frogs use acoustic cues to find new breeding areas by broadcasting chorus sounds at artificial ponds. We found that acoustic cues were effective in attracting H. chrysoscelis to ponds; playback ponds were detected by H. chrysoscelis at significantly faster rates and had greater rates of use than control ponds. Anaxyrus americanus did not colonize ponds regardless of the presence of chorus sounds. This study provides some of the first experimental field evidence that anurans use conspecific cues to locate new breeding habitat; however, species with certain life-history traits may be more likely to exhibit this behavior. These findings may have valuable applications to amphibian conservation and management. If certain anuran species use presence of conspecifics to select habitat, managers may manipulate conspecific cues to passively translocate individuals across the landscape to target wetlands.
    Behavioral Ecology 05/2015; DOI:10.1093/beheco/arv059 · 3.18 Impact Factor
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    • "In many instances, application of auditory experimental or management treatments is done most efficiently using automated systems that can be programmed to operate without a human present (Ward and Schlossberg 2004, Fletcher 2007, 2009; Betts et al. 2008; Zanette et al. 2011). "
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    ABSTRACT: Automated sound broadcast systems have been used to address a variety of ecological questions, and show great potential as a management tool. Such systems need to be reliable because treatments are often applied in the absence of a human observer and system failure can cause methodological ambiguity. During the breeding seasons of 2012 and 2013, we used a sound broadcast system previously described by Farrell and Campomizzi (2011) in an experiment evaluating the use of post-breeding song in forest-bird habitat selection in southern Indiana, USA. This system incorporates a portable compact disc (CD) player where the play button is permanently depressed using manual compression so that when a timer connects an electrical current to the unit, the CD player automatically starts. Despite exhaustive efforts to find a reliable way to manually compress the play button on numerous CD player models, play button failure was the most significant source of broadcast system failure (88%) in 2012. We attempted to resolve this problem in 2013 by removing the need for manual compression and soldering the play button contact poles on each CD players' integrated circuit boards. Though we did experience broadcast system failures during <5% of treatment periods in 2013, none of those were attributable to play button failure. By removing all possibility of failure from manual play button compression we improved our system reliability. Thus, soldering the CD player play button on such broadcast systems represents a methodological improvement that can be used by researchers and managers interested in sound broadcast. © 2014 The Wildlife Society.
    Wildlife Society Bulletin 12/2014; 38(4). DOI:10.1002/wsb.468 · 1.27 Impact Factor
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