Nebraska Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit
Date of this Version
The Journal of Wildlife Management 80(5):877–883; 2016; DOI: 10.1002/jwmg.1068
Although the management and restoration of habitat is the key method to conserve species of interest, local habitat management often fails to elicit desired responses in populations. Landscape features beyond the local habitat scale affect the population dynamics of ring-necked pheasants (Phasianus colchicus), but the mechanism behind this response is unknown. One possibility is that nest survival, which is primarily reduced by nest predation, is regulating pheasant responses to the landscape. We investigated the extent to which land use affected nest survival by studying 202 artificial nests on 12 Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) fields in Nebraska, USA with varying surrounding land-use practices. After running a hierarchical analysis of competing models, we found that predicted nest survival increased as the amount of CRP, winter wheat, and pastureland surrounding a CRP field increased, whereas increasing fallow fields was correlated with decreased nest success. Our findings support theoretical and empirical evidence that nest predation rates are shaped by predator search efficacy. Changing the relative availability of nesting habitat that potentially holds alternative prey sources in our study affected nest survival rates, possibly by altering the search area of opportunistic nest predators. The similarities between the landscape relationships that predict nest survival and landscape predictors of pheasant abundance indicate that nest survival may potentially act as the mechanism shaping population dynamics within an ever changing farmland ecosystem. We recommend that managers consider the land use surrounding areas under consideration for habitat improvement to enhance conservation investments.
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U.S. government work.