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Concept: Nest


Attempts to estimate and identify factors influencing first-year survival in passerines, survival between fledging and the first reproductive attempt (i.e. juvenile survival), have largely been confounded by natal dispersal, particularly in long-distance migratory passerines. We studied Prothonotary Warblers (Protonotaria citrea) breeding in nest boxes to estimate first-year survival while accounting for biases related to dispersal that are common in mark-recapture studies. The natal dispersal distribution (median = 1420 m; n = 429) and a distance-dependent recruitment rate, which controls for effects of study site configuration, both indicated a pattern of short-distance natal dispersal. This pattern was consistent with results of a systematic survey for birds returning outside the nest box study sites (up to 30 km in all directions) within a majority (81%) of total available bottomland forest habitat, further suggesting that permanent emigration outside of the study system was rare. We used multistate mark-recapture modeling to estimate first-year survival and incorporated factors thought to influence survival while accounting for the potential confounding effects of dispersal on recapture probabilities for warblers that fledged during 2004-2009 (n = 6093). Overall, the average first-year survival for warblers reared without cowbird nestmates was 0.11 (95% CI = 0.09-0.13), decreased with fledging date (0.22 early to 0.03 late) and averaged 40% lower for warblers reared with a brood parasite nestmate. First-year survival was less than half of the rate thought to represent population replacement in migratory passerines (∼0.30). This very low rate suggests that surviving the first year of life for many Neotropical migratory species is even more difficult than previously thought, forcing us to rethink estimates used in population models.

Concepts: Population, Bird, Nest, Brood parasite, New World warbler, Ornithology, Prothonotary Warbler, Nest box


Society is increasingly concerned with declining wild bee populations. Although most bees nest in the ground, considerable effort has centered on installing ‘bee hotels’-also known as nest boxes or trap nests-which artificially aggregate nest sites of above ground nesting bees. Campaigns to ‘save the bees’ often promote these devices despite the absence of data indicating they have a positive effect. From a survey of almost 600 bee hotels set up over a period of three years in Toronto, Canada, introduced bees nested at 32.9% of sites and represented 24.6% of more than 27,000 total bees and wasps recorded (47.1% of all bees recorded). Native bees were parasitized more than introduced bees and females of introduced bee species provisioned nests with significantly more female larva each year. Native wasps were significantly more abundant than both native and introduced bees and occupied almost ¾ of all bee hotels each year; further, introduced wasps were the only group to significantly increase in relative abundance year over year. More research is needed to elucidate the potential pitfalls and benefits of using bee hotels in the conservation and population dynamics of wild native bees.

Concepts: Insect, Population, Larva, Bee, Wasp, Nest, Abundance of the chemical elements, Nest box


Knowledge about the types of nests built by dinosaurs can provide insight into the evolution of nesting and reproductive behaviors among archosaurs. However, the low preservation potential of their nesting materials and nesting structures means that most information can only be gleaned indirectly through comparison with extant archosaurs. Two general nest types are recognized among living archosaurs: 1) covered nests, in which eggs are incubated while fully covered by nesting material (as in crocodylians and megapodes), and 2) open nests, in which eggs are exposed in the nest and brooded (as in most birds). Previously, dinosaur nest types had been inferred by estimating the water vapor conductance (i.e., diffusive capacity) of their eggs, based on the premise that high conductance corresponds to covered nests and low conductance to open nests. However, a lack of statistical rigor and inconsistencies in this method render its application problematic and its validity questionable. As an alternative we propose a statistically rigorous approach to infer nest type based on large datasets of eggshell porosity and egg mass compiled for over 120 extant archosaur species and 29 archosaur extinct taxa/ootaxa. The presence of a strong correlation between eggshell porosity and nest type among extant archosaurs indicates that eggshell porosity can be used as a proxy for nest type, and thus discriminant analyses can help predict nest type in extinct taxa. Our results suggest that: 1) covered nests are likely the primitive condition for dinosaurs (and probably archosaurs), and 2) open nests first evolved among non-avian theropods more derived than Lourinhanosaurus and were likely widespread in non-avian maniraptorans, well before the appearance of birds. Although taphonomic evidence suggests that basal open nesters (i.e., oviraptorosaurs and troodontids) were potentially the first dinosaurs to brood their clutches, they still partially buried their eggs in sediment. Open nests with fully exposed eggs only became widespread among Euornithes. A potential co-evolution of open nests and brooding behavior among maniraptorans may have freed theropods from the ground-based restrictions inherent to covered nests and allowed the exploitation of alternate nesting locations. These changes in nesting styles and behaviors thus may have played a role in the evolutionary success of maniraptorans (including birds).

Concepts: Evolution, Bird, Extinction, Nest, Dinosaur, Bird nest, Archosaur, Rauisuchia


Dinosaurs thrived and reproduced in various regions worldwide, including the Arctic. In order to understand their nesting in diverse or extreme environments, the relationships between nests, nesting environments, and incubation methods in extant archosaurs were investigated. Statistical analyses reveal that species of extant covered nesters (i.e., crocodylians and megapodes) preferentially select specific sediments/substrates as a function of their nesting style and incubation heat sources. Relationships between dinosaur eggs and the sediments in which they occur reveal that hadrosaurs and some sauropods (i.e., megaloolithid eggs) built organic-rich mound nests that relied on microbial decay for incubation, whereas other sauropods (i.e., faveoloolithid eggs) built sandy in-filled hole nests that relied on solar or potentially geothermal heat for incubation. Paleogeographic distribution of mound nests and sandy in-filled hole nests in dinosaurs reveals these nest types produced sufficient incubation heat to be successful up to mid latitudes (≤47°), 10° higher than covered nesters today. However, only mound nesting and likely brooding could have produced sufficient incubation heat for nesting above the polar circle (>66°). As a result, differences in nesting styles may have placed restrictions on the reproduction of dinosaurs and their dispersal at high latitudes.

Concepts: Bird, Arctic Ocean, Nest, Dinosaur, Saurischia, Bird nest, Archosaur, Rauisuchia


Nature recreation conflicts with conservation, but its impacts on wildlife are not fully understood. Where recreation is not regulated, visitors to natural areas may gather in large numbers on weekends and holidays. This may increase variance in fitness in wild populations, if individuals whose critical life cycle stages coincide with periods of high human disturbance are at a disadvantage. We studied nestling development of blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) in a natural area where recreation activities intensify during weekends and other public holidays at picnic and leisure facilities, but not in the surrounding woods. In nests located near recreation facilities, blue tit nestlings that hatched during holidays developed slowly, and fledged with low body mass and poor body condition. However, nestlings that hatched outside of holidays and weekends in these nest boxes developed normally, eventually attaining similar phenotypes as those hatching in the surrounding woods. Within-brood variance in body mass was also higher in broods that began growing during holidays in disturbed areas. Our results show that early disturbance events may have negative consequences for wild birds if they overlap with critical stages of development, unveiling otherwise cryptic impacts of human activities. These new findings may help managers better regulate nature recreation.

Concepts: Bird, Great Tit, Tit, Blue Tit, Nest, Wildlife, Cyanistes, Azure Tit


Nest-building orangutans must daily build safe and comfortable nest structures in the forest canopy and do this quickly and effectively using the branches that surround them. This study aimed to investigate the mechanical design and architecture of orangutan nests and determine the degree of technical sophistication used in their construction. We measured the whole nest compliance and the thickness of the branches used and recorded the ways in which the branches were fractured. Branch samples were also collected from the nests and subjected to three-point bending tests to determine their mechanical properties. We demonstrated that the center of the nest is more compliant than the edges; this may add extra comfort and safety to the structure. During construction orangutans use the fact that branches only break half-way across in “greenstick” fracture to weave the main nest structure. They choose thicker branches with greater rigidity and strength to build the main structure in this way. They then detach thinner branches by following greenstick fracture with a twisting action to make the lining. These results suggest that orangutans exhibit a degree of technical knowledge and choice in the construction of nests.

Concepts: Structure, Demonstration, Branch, Nest, Construction, Architecture, Civil engineering, Architect


Thermal properties of tree hollows play a major role in survival and reproduction of hollow-dependent fauna. Artificial hollows (nest boxes) are increasingly being used to supplement the loss of natural hollows; however, the factors that drive nest box thermal profiles have received surprisingly little attention. We investigated how differences in surface reflectance influenced temperature profiles of nest boxes painted three different colors (dark-green, light-green, and white: total solar reflectance 5.9%, 64.4%, and 90.3% respectively) using boxes designed for three groups of mammals: insectivorous bats, marsupial gliders and brushtail possums. Across the three different box designs, dark-green (low reflectance) boxes experienced the highest average and maximum daytime temperatures, had the greatest magnitude of variation in daytime temperatures within the box, and were consistently substantially warmer than light-green boxes (medium reflectance), white boxes (high reflectance), and ambient air temperatures. Results from biophysical model simulations demonstrated that variation in diurnal temperature profiles generated by painting boxes either high or low reflectance colors could have significant ecophysiological consequences for animals occupying boxes, with animals in dark-green boxes at high risk of acute heat-stress and dehydration during extreme heat events. Conversely in cold weather, our modelling indicated that there are higher cumulative energy costs for mammals, particularly smaller animals, occupying light-green boxes. Given their widespread use as a conservation tool, we suggest that before boxes are installed, consideration should be given to the effect of color on nest box temperature profiles, and the resultant thermal suitability of boxes for wildlife, particularly during extremes in weather. Managers of nest box programs should consider using several different colors and installing boxes across a range of both orientations and shade profiles (i.e., levels of canopy cover), to ensure target animals have access to artificial hollows with a broad range of thermal profiles, and can therefore choose boxes with optimal thermal conditions across different seasons.

Concepts: Weather, Temperature, Thermodynamics, Heat, Bat, Black body, Nest, Nest box


Previous studies have suggested that birds and mammals select materials needed for nest building based on their thermal or structural properties, although the amounts or properties of the materials used have been recorded for only a very small number of species. Some of the behaviours underlying the construction of nests can be indirectly determined by careful deconstruction of the structure and measurement of the biomechanical properties of the materials used. Here we examined this idea in an investigation of Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) nests as a model for open-nesting songbird species that construct a “twig” nest, and tested the hypothesis that materials in different parts of nests serve different functions. The quantities of materials present in the nest base, sides and cup were recorded before structural analysis. Structural analysis showed that the base of the outer nests were composed of significantly thicker, stronger and more rigid materials compared to the side walls, which in turn were significantly thicker, stronger and more rigid than materials used in the cup. These results suggest that the placement of particular materials in nests may not be random, but further work is required to determine if the final structure of a nest accurately reflects the construction process.

Concepts: Structure, Bird, Songbird, Nest, Construction, Bird nest, Deconstruction, Pyrrhula


In the Florida harvester ant, Pogonomyrmex badius, foragers occur only in the top 15 cm of the nest, whereas brood and brood-care workers reside mostly in the deepest regions, yet the food and seeds foragers collect must be transported downward 30 to 80 cm to seed chambers and up to 2 m to brood chambers. Using mark-recapture techniques with fluorescent printer’s ink, we identified a class of workers that ranges widely within the vertical structure of the nest, rapidly moving materials dropped by foragers in the upper regions downward, and excavated soil from deeper upward. Within the nest, only 5% of foragers were recovered below 20 cm depth, but about 30% of transfer workers and 82% of unmarked workers were found there. Below 70 cm depth, 90% of workers were unmarked, and were probably involved mostly in brood care. During the summer, the transfer workers comprise about a quarter of the nest population, while foragers make up about 40%. Workers marked as transfer workers later appear as foragers, while those marked as foragers die and disappear from the foraging population, suggesting that transfer workers are younger, and age into foraging. The importance of these findings for laboratory studies of division of labor are discussed. The efficient allocation of labor is a key component of superorganismal fitness.

Concepts: Seed, Nest, Optimal foraging theory, Foraging, Printer


Insects such as desert ants learn stereotyped visual routes between their nests and reliable food sites. Studies here reveal an important control element for ensuring that the route memories are used appropriately. They find that visual route memories can be disengaged, so that they do not provide guidance, even when all appropriate visual cues are present and when there are no competing guidance cues. Ants were trained along a simple route dominated by a single isolated landmark. If returning ants were caught just before entering the nest and replaced at the feeder, then they often interrupted the recapitulation of their homeward route with a period of apparent confusion during which the route memories were ignored. A series of experiments showed that this confusion occurred in response to the repetition of the route, and that the ants must therefore maintain some kind of a memory of their visual experience on the current trip home. A conceptual model of route guidance is offered to explain the results here. It proposes how the memory might act and suggests a general role for disengagement in regulating route guidance.

Concepts: Insect, Cognition, Memory, Morality, Ant, Nest, Route, E. O. Wilson