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Data from: Rodent-avoidance, topography and forest structure shape territory selection of a forest bird

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Pasinelli, Gilberto; Grendelmeier, Alex; Gerber, Michael; Arlettaz, Raphaël (2016). Data from: Rodent-avoidance, topography and forest structure shape territory selection of a forest bird [Dataset]. Dryad.


Background - Understanding the factors underlying habitat selection is important in ecological and evolutionary contexts, and crucial for developing targeted conservation action in threatened species. However, the key factors associated to habitat selection often remain poorly known. We evaluated hypotheses related to abiotic and biotic factors thought to affect territory selection of the wood warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix, a passerine living in an unpredictable environment owing to irregular rodent outbreaks and showing long-term declines particularly in Western Europe. Results - Comparing breeding territories to unoccupied areas located close-by revealed that territory occupancy in north-western Switzerland was positively related to slope steepness (topographic hypothesis supported) as well as to numbers of tussocks and trees, respectively, while it showed a unimodal relationship to cover of herb layer (forest structure hypothesis supported). Furthermore, a strong negative correlation between breeding territory occupancy and rodent numbers was found, suggesting that wood warblers avoid areas with high rodent densities (rodent-avoidance hypothesis supported). Comparing breeding territories to abandoned territories showed that breeding territories were located on steeper slopes (topography hypothesis supported), at larger distance from the forest edge (anthropogenic disturbance hypothesis supported) and harboured more trees (forest structure hypothesis supported) than abandoned territories. Conclusions - Aside from structural and topographic features of the habitat, wood warblers are affected by rodent numbers when settling, making habitat selection unpredictable from year to year. Forestry practices promoting relatively high tree densities, few bushes and an intermediate low-growing ground vegetation cover would enhance habitat quality for this declining passerine. In contrast, forestry practices aiming at increasing light in forests (selective thinning, group-felling) or keeping forest stands permanently covered with shrubs, bushes and trees of various sizes (continuous cover forestry) do not benefit the wood warbler.

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