Edge effects in the great tit: analyses of long-term data with GIS techniques.
Wilkin TA., Garant D., Gosler AG., Sheldon BC.
In contemporary fragmented landscapes, edges are commonplace, and understanding the effects of edge environments is thus essential for the conservation of forest communities. The reproductive output of forest passerines is often reduced close to forest edges. Possible explanations include overcrowding by conspecifics, elevated rates of predation, and the occurrence of lower-quality habitat and/or individuals at forest edges. We attempted to separate these processes by examining edge effects in the absence of nest predation and by effectively controlling for differences in breeding density and the quality of habitats and individuals. We used an edge distance index (EDI), which accounts for the number and distribution of edges in close proximity to a breeding location, to help explain variation in breeding density, nesting success, and reproductive traits of 8308 pairs of Great Tits (Parus major) breeding between 1965 and 2005, in Wytham, near Oxford, United Kingdom. Results from linear mixed modeling confirmed higher breeding density and a higher proportion of immigrant individuals at forest edges. Nevertheless, independently of these effects, we also found that birds laying later, with smaller clutches but larger eggs, were typical of edge environments. The number of offspring recruited to the breeding offspring per breeding attempt was also reduced at edges, both directly and mediated through changes in clutch size and laying date. Edge effects on life histories were detectable within individual females and up to 500 m from the woodland edge. Woodland edges are increasingly common in contemporary fragmented landscapes. Therefore these results, which suggest a pervasive effect of edges on reproduction, are of considerable importance to the management and conservation of forest communities.