Enclosed nests may provide greater thermal than nest predation benefits compared with open nests across latitudes

Functional Ecology
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  1. Nest structure is thought to provide benefits that have fitness consequences for several taxa. Traditionally, reduced nest predation has been considered the primary benefit underlying evolution of nest structure, whereas thermal benefits have been considered a secondary or even non-existent factor. Yet, the relative roles of these factors on nest structures remain largely unexplored.
  2. Enclosed nests have a constructed or natural roof connected to sides that allow a restricted opening or tube entrance that provides cover in all directions except the entrance, whereas open nests are cups or platforms that are open above. We show that construction of enclosed nests is more common among songbirds (Passeriformes) in tropical and southern hemisphere regions than in north temperate regions. This geographic pattern may reflect selection from predation risk, under long-standing assumptions that nest predation rates are higher in southern regions and that enclosed nests reduce predation risk compared with open cup nests. We therefore compared nest predation rates between enclosed vs. open nests in 114 songbird species that do not nest in tree holes among five communities of coexisting birds, and for 205 non-hole-nesting species from the literature, across northern temperate, tropical, and southern hemisphere regions.
  3. Among coexisting species, enclosed nests had lower nest predation rates than open nests in two south temperate sites, but not in either of two tropical sites or a north temperate site. Nest predation did not differ between nest types at any latitude based on literature data. Among 319 species from both our field studies and the literature, enclosed nests did not show consistent benefits of reduced predation and, in fact, predation was not consistently higher in the tropics, contrary to long-standing perspectives.
  4. Thermal benefits of enclosed nests were indicated based on three indirect results. First, species that built enclosed nests were smaller than species using open nests both among coexisting species and among species from the literature. Smaller species lose heat fastest and thereby may gain important thermal benefits from reduced convective cooling. Second, eggs were warmed by parents for less time in species with enclosed nests, as can be expected if egg cooling rates are slower. Finally, species using enclosed nests exhibited enhanced growth of mass and wings compared with species using open nests, suggesting reduced thermoregulatory costs allowed increased energy for growth.
  5. Enclosed nests may therefore provide more consistent thermal than nest predation benefits, counter to long-standing perspectives.
Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Enclosed nests may provide greater thermal than nest predation benefits compared with open nests across latitudes
Series title Functional Ecology
DOI 10.1111/1365-2435.12819
Volume 31
Issue 6
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher British Ecological Society
Contributing office(s) Coop Res Unit Seattle
Description 10 p.
First page 1231
Last page 1240
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