Balancing Between Predation Risk and Food by Boreal Breeding Ducks

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Sari Holopainen
Elmo Miettinen
Veli-Matti Väänänen
Petri Nummi
Hannu Pöysä
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Wetlands belong to the globally most threatened habitats, and organisms depending on them are of conservation concern. Wetland destruction and quality loss may affect negatively also boreal breeding ducks in which habitat selection often needs balancing between important determinants of habitat suitability. In Finland duck population trajectories are habitat-specific, while the reasons behind are poorly understood. In this research, we studied the balance of nest predation risk and invertebrate food abundance in boreal breeding ducks in Finland at 45 lakes and ponds in 2017 and 2018. We surveyed duck pairs and broods from these and 18 additional water bodies. We evaluated nest predation by monitoring artificial nests with camera traps over a 7-day exposure period and sampled invertebrates from water bodies using emergence and activity traps. Camera trap results indicate that predation risk was higher in the water bodies surrounded by agricultural land than in forestland. Ponds (seasonal, beaver, and man-made) had lower nest predation risk, and they were also more invertebrate-rich than permanent lakes. In addition, artificial nests further away from water bodies had higher survival than shoreline nests. Habitat use of duck pairs was not associated with invertebrate food, but duck broods preferred habitats rich in food. High nest predation pressure in shorelines of especially agricultural landscapes may contribute to the declining population trends of ducks in Finland. Controlling predators could be an important conservation action to improve duck breeding success. This research underlines the benefits of the availability of different water body types for breeding ducks. There is an urgent need to pay attention to protecting seasonal ponds, while the lack of flooded waters may be mitigated by favouring beavers or creating man-made ponds.