Nesting in an uncertain world: Information and sampling the future

Kenneth A. Schmidt, Christopher J. Whelan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Seasonal fecundity is strongly influenced by the number of nests attempted (including renests following nest failure) in a season. This number is often assumed to be set by the length of the breeding season or through some predetermined maximum. Instead, the decision to renest likely results from a cost-benefit analysis honed by natural selection where the ultimate components of fitness, i.e. reproduction and survival, tradeoff with one another. Moreover, reproductive decision making should not occur in an information-vacuum. In a world where habitat quality (i.e. likelihood of nest success) is uncertain females should use nest failures to update the probability their renest nest will succeed, and this estimate in turn can affect the decision to renest. We develop a model of renesting behavior based on these conceptual ideas using the framework of statistical decision theory (SDT) and the process of Bayesian updating. We assume that renesting incurs 1) a cost to future reproductive success and 2) a reduction in expected reproductive success for each successive replacement nest. We show, all else equal, birds should curtail renesting with (1) increased residual reproductive success, (2) increased cost to future reproduction, (3) declines in current reproduction with successive attempts, and (4) increasing nest predation rates. We also explore several ecological implications of the model. First, uncertainty in habitat quality and the process of information updating, based on nest outcomes, link changes in the quality or proportion of one habitat type to the behavior in the other habitat. Second, females may use their estimate of habitat quality, based on a sample of nesting attempts, to decide whether to return or disperse to a new site between years. We compare this to the win-stay: lose-switch rule for dispersal and discuss the implications for population dynamics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)245-253
Number of pages9
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2010


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