© Marcel Burkhardt
Tschumi, M., M. Schaub & R. Arlettaz (2014)
Territory occupancy and parental quality as proxies for spatial prioritization of conservation areas.
PLoS ONE 9 (5): e97679
In order to maximize their fitness, individuals aim at choosing territories offering the most appropriate combination of resources. As population size fluctuates in time, the frequency of breeding territory occupancy reflects territory quality. We investigated the relationships between the frequency of territory occupancy (2002–2009) vs. habitat characteristics, prey abundance, reproductive success and parental traits in hoopoes Upupa epops L., with the objective to define proxies for the delineation of conservation priority areas. We predicted that the distribution of phenotypes is despotic and sought for phenotypic characteristics expressing dominance. Our findings support the hypothesis of a despotic distribution. Territory selection was non-random: frequently occupied territories were settled earlier in the season and yielded higher annual reproductive success, but the frequency of territory occupancy could not be related to any habitat characteristics. Males found in frequently occupied territories showed traits expressing dominance (i.e. larger body size and mass, and older age). In contrast, morphological traits of females were not related to the frequency of territory occupancy, suggesting that territory selection and maintenance were essentially a male’s task. Settlement time in spring, reproductive success achieved in a given territory, as well as phenotypic traits and age of male territory holders reflected territory quality, providing good proxies for assessing priority areas for conservation management.