New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2009) 33(1): 40- 51

Using artificial nests to predict nest survival at reintroduction sites

Research Article
Rebecca M. Lewis 1,2*
Doug P. Armstrong 1
Michael K Joy 1
Yvan Richard 1
Don Ravine 3
Åsa Berggren 1
Rebecca L. Boulton 1
  1. Wildlife Ecology Group, Institute of Natural Resources, Massey University, Private Bag 11 222, Palmerston North 5320, New Zealand
  2. Current address: Department of Conservation, PO Box 11010, Palmerston North, New Zealand
  3. Department of Conservation, PO Box 11010, Palmerston North, New Zealand
*  Corresponding author

Artificial nests are frequently used to assess factors affecting survival of natural bird nests. We tested the potential for artificial nests to be used in a novel application, the prediction of nest predation rates at potential reintroduction sites where exotic predators are being controlled. We collected artificial nest data from nine sites with different predator control regimes around the North Island of New Zealand, and compared the nest survival rates with those of North Island robin (Petroica longipes) nests at the same sites. Most of the robin populations had been reintroduced in the last 10 years, and were known to vary in nest survival and status (increasing/stable or declining). We derived estimates of robin nest survival for each site based on Stanley estimates of daily survival probabilities and the known incubation and brooding periods of robins. Estimates of artificial nest survival for each site were derived using the known fate model in MARK. We identified the imprints on the clay eggs in the artificial nests, and obtained different estimates of artificial nest survival based on imprints made by different potential predators. We then compared the value of these estimates for predicting natural nest survival, assuming a relationship of the form s = αpβ, where s is natural nest survival and p is artificial nest survival. Artificial nest survival estimates based on imprints made by rats (Rattus spp.) and brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) were clearly the best predictors (based on AICc), and explained 64% of the variation in robin nest survival among sites. Inclusion of bird imprints in the artificial nest survival estimates substantially reduced their predictive value. We suggest that artificial nests may provide a useful tool for predicting the suitability of potential reintroduction sites for New Zealand forest birds as long as imprints on clay eggs are correctly identified.