Emu Emu Society
Journal of BirdLife Australia

Habitat selection in two Australasian treecreepers: what cues should they use?

Veronica A. J. Doerr A B C D , Erik D. Doerr A B C and Stephen H. Jenkins A

A Program in Ecology, Evolution & Conservation Biology, University of Nevada, Reno, NV 89557, USA.

B School of Botany & Zoology, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia.

C Present address: CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, GPO Box 284, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email: veronica.doerr@csiro.au

Emu 106(2) 93-103 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/MU05020
Submitted: 16 May 2005  Accepted: 28 February 2006   Published: 19 May 2006


When habitats differ in quality, individuals may attempt to maximise fitness through habitat selection. However, complete tests of habitat selection are rare, in part because many studies fail to quantify fitness consequences of habitat choice. We studied habitat selection of Australasian treecreepers (Passeriformes: Climacteridae) in temperate eucalypt woodland by examining the influence of habitat characteristics and confounding factors on annual reproductive success. In the pair-breeding White-throated Treecreeper (Cormobates leucophaeus), older females and territories with fewer stumps and less woody debris produced more young, possibly because these habitat characteristics lead to reduced conflict with Brown Treecreepers (Climacteris picumnus). In the cooperatively breeding Brown Treecreeper, larger groups and territories with lower densities of shrub, moderate levels of ground cover, and greater amounts of foraging substrate produced more fledglings, whereas territories with greater invertebrate biomass produced more independent young. Predicted annual reproductive success in the best territory was up to two offspring more than predicted success in the worst territory; thus, treecreepers would benefit from selecting good quality habitat. However, complete tests of habitat selection need to evaluate whether dispersers actively sample multiple habitats and choose the best available, and thus whether individual-level processes determine large-scale patterns of distribution and abundance. These results also suggest that current conservation efforts to exclude grazing from remnant patches of eucalypt woodland may be inappropriate if not used in conjunction with other management actions, because such exclusion may dramatically increase shrub density and ground cover. Alternative management tools need to be investigated that will maintain a mosaic of microhabitat types and thus protect the eucalypt woodland ecosystem, not just a few of its species.


Anderson D. R. Burnham K. P. Gould W. R. Cherry S. 2001 Concerns about finding effects that are actually spurious. Wildlife Society Bulletin 29 311 316

Badyaev A. V. Martin T. E. Etges W. J. 1996 Habitat sampling and habitat selection by female Wild Turkeys: ecological correlates and reproductive consequences. Auk 113 636 646

Bisson I. A. Stutchbury B. J. 2000 Nesting success and nest-site selection by a neotropical migrant in a fragmented landscape. Canadian Journal of Zoology 78 858 863

Boyce M. S. Vernier P. R. Nielsen S. E. Schmiegelow F. K. A. 2002 Evaluating resource selection functions. Ecological Modelling 157 281 300 DOI

Braden G. T. McKernan R. L. Powell S. M. 1997 Association of within-territory vegetation characteristics and fitness components of California gnatcatchers. Auk 114 601 609

Burnham K. P., and Anderson D. R. (1998). ‘Model Selection and Inference: A Practical Information-Theoretic Approach.’ (Springer-Verlag: New York.)

Clark R. G. Shutler D. 1999 Avian habitat selection: pattern from process in nest-site use by ducks? Ecology 80 272 287

Clutton-Brock T. H. (Ed.) (1988). ‘Reproductive Success.’ (University of Chicago Press: Chicago, IL.)

Cockburn A. 1998 Evolution of helping behavior in cooperatively breeding birds. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 29 141 177

Cody M. L. (Ed.) (1985). ‘Habitat Selection in Birds.’ (Academic Press: London.)

Cooper C. B. Walters J. R. 2002 Independent effects of woodland loss and fragmentation on Brown Treecreeper distribution. Biological Conservation 105 1 10 DOI

Doerr E. D. (2004). A comparative approach to cooperative breeding: demography, helping behavior, and population genetics of Australasian treecreepers. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Nevada-Reno, Reno, NV.

Doerr E. D. Doerr V. A. J. 2005 Dispersal range analysis: quantifying individual variation in dispersal behaviour. Oecologia 142 1 10

Doerr E. D. Doerr V. A. J. In press Comparative demography of treecreepers: evaluating multiple hypotheses for the evolution and maintenance of cooperative breeding. Animal Behaviour

Doerr V. A. J. (2003). Alternative dispersal tactics in Australasian treecreepers. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Nevada-Reno, Reno, NV.

Emlen S. T. (1997). Predicting family dynamics in social vertebrates. In ‘Behavioural Ecology: An Evolutionary Approach’. (Eds J. R. Krebs and N. B. Davies.) pp. 228–253. (Blackwell Science: Oxford, UK.)

Emlen S. T. Wrege P. 1991 Breeding biology of white-fronted bee-eaters at Nakurus: the influence of helpers on breeder fitness. Journal of Animal Ecology 60 309 326

Ford H. A. Barrett G. W. Saunders D. A. Recher H. F. 2001 Why have birds in the woodlands of southern Australia declined? Biological Conservation 97 71 88

Fretwell S. D. Lucas H. L. J. 1969 On territorial behavior and other factors influencing habitat distribution in birds. I. Theoretical development. Acta Biotheoretica 19 16 36 DOI

Garnett S. T., and Crowley G. M. (2000). ‘The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000.’ (Environment Australia: Canberra.)

Guisan A. Zimmermann N. E. 2000 Predictive habitat distribution models in ecology. Ecological Modelling 135 147 186 DOI

Henderson H. V. Velleman P. F. 1981 Building multiple regression models interactively. Biometrics 37 391 411

Higgins P. J., Peter J. M., and Steele W. K. (Eds) (2001). ‘Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds. Vol. 5: Tyrant-flycatchers to Chats.’ (Oxford University Press: Melbourne.)

Holmes R. T. Marra P. P. Sherry T. W. 1996 Habitat-specific demography of breeding black-throated blue warblers (Dendroica caerulescens): implications for population dynamics. Journal of Animal Ecology 65 183 195

Hunt P. D. 1996 Habitat selection by American Redstarts along a successional gradient in northern hardwoods forest: evaluation of habitat quality. Auk 113 875 888

James F. C. McCulloch C. E. 1990 Multivariate analysis in ecology and systematics: panacea or Pandora’s box? Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 21 129 166

Jones J. 2001 Habitat selection studies in avian ecology: a critical review. Auk 118 557 562

Krebs C. J. (1994). ‘Ecology: The Experimental Analysis of Distribution and Abundance.’ (Harper Collins: New York.)

Luck G. W. 2002 Determining habitat quality for the cooperatively breeding Rufous Treecreeper Climacteris rufa. Austral Ecology 27 229 237

Martin T. E. 1987 Food as a limit on breeding birds: a life-history perspective. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 18 453 487 DOI

Martin T. E. 1998 Are microhabitat preferences of coexisting species under selection and adaptive? Ecology 79 656 670

Matthysen E. 1990 Behavioral and ecological correlates of territory quality in the Eurasian nuthatch (Sitta europaea). Auk 107 86 95

Muller K. L. Stamps J. A. Krishnan V. V. Willits N. H. 1997 The effects of conspecific attraction and habitat quality on habitat selection in territorial birds (Troglodytes aedon). American Naturalist 150 650 661

Ness J. H. Bronstein J. L. Andersen A. N. Holland J. N. 2004 Ant body size predicts dispersal distance of ant-adapted seeds: implications of small-ant invasions. Ecology 85 1244 1250

Newton I. 1980 The role of food in limiting bird numbers. Ardea 68 11 30

Noske R. A. 1979 Co-existence of three species of treecreepers in north-eastern New South Wales. Emu 79 120 128

Noske R. A. 1991 A demographic comparison of cooperatively breeding and non-cooperative treecreepers (Climacteridae). Emu 91 73 86

Parker G. A. Sutherland W. J. 1986 Ideal free distributions when individuals differ in competitive ability: phenotype-limited ideal free models. Animal Behaviour 34 1222 1242

Penteriani V. Balbontin J. Ferrer M. 2003 Simultaneous effects of age and territory quality on fecundity in Bonelli’s Eagle Hieraaetus fasciatus. Ibis 145 E77 E82

Philippi T. E. (1993). Multiple regression: herbivory. In ‘Design and Analysis of Ecological Experiments’. (Eds S. M. Scheiner and J. Gurevitch.) pp. 183–210. (Chapman and Hall: New York.)

Reed J. M. Dobson A. P. 1993 Behavioural constraints and conservation biology: conspecific attraction and recruitment. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 8 253 256 DOI

Reid J. R. W. (1999). ‘Threatened and Declining Birds in the New South Wales Sheep-Wheat Belt: I. Diagnosis, Characteristics and Management.’ (CSIRO Wildlife and Ecology: Canberra.)

Robinson D., and Traill B. J. (1996). Conserving woodland birds in the wheat and sheep belts of southern Australia. Conservation Statement No. 10, Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union, Melbourne.

Rosenzweig M. L. (1985). Some theoretical aspects of habitat selection. In ‘Habitat Selection in Birds’. (Ed. M. L. Cody.) pp. 517–540. (Academic Press: London.)

Rosenzweig M. L. 1991 Habitat selection and population interactions: the search for mechanism. American Naturalist 137 S5 S28 DOI

Safran R. J. 2004 Adaptive site selection rules and variation in group size of barn swallows: individual decisions predict population patterns. American Naturalist 164 121 131 DOI

Saether B.-E. 1990 Age-specific variation in reproductive performance of birds. Current Ornithology 7 251 283

Southwood T. R. E. 1977 Habitat, the templet for ecological strategies? Journal of Animal Ecology 46 337 366

Stacey P. B., and Koenig W. D. (Eds) (1990). ‘Cooperative Breeding in Birds.’ (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK.)

Stamps J. A. (2001). Habitat selection by dispersers: integrating proximate and ultimate approaches. In ‘Dispersal’. (Eds J. Clobert, E. Danchin, A. A. Dhondt, and J. D. Nichols.) pp. 230–242. (Oxford University Press: Oxford, UK.)

Sutherland W. J. (1996). ‘From Individual Behaviour to Population Ecology.’ (Oxford University Press: New York.)

Switzer P. V. 2002 Territory quality, habitat selection, and competition in the amberwing dragonfly, Perithemis tenera (Say) (Odonata: Libellulidae): population patterns as a consequence of individual behavior. Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society 75 145 157

Tyre A. J. Possingham H. P. Lindenmayer D. B. 2001 Inferring process from pattern: can territory occupancy provide information about life history parameters? Ecological Applications 11 1722 1737

Van Horne B. 1983 Density as a misleading indicator of habitat quality. Journal of Wildlife Management 47 893 901

Vickery P. D. Hunter M. L. J. Wells J. V. 1992 Is density an indicator of breeding success? Auk 109 706 710

Wiens J. A. (1985). Habitat selection in variable environments: shrub-steppe birds. In ‘Habitat Selection in Birds’. (Ed. M. L. Cody.) pp. 227–251. (Academic Press: London.)

Wiens J. A. Rotenberry J. T. 1981 Censusing and the evaluation of habitat occupancy. Studies in Avian Biology 6 522 532

Export Citation