Prothonotary warbler nestling growth and condition in response to variation in aquatic and terrestrial prey availability

Ecol Evol. 2016 Sep 28;6(20):7462-7474. doi: 10.1002/ece3.2400. eCollection 2016 Oct.


Aquatic prey subsidies entering terrestrial habitats are well documented, but little is known about the degree to which these resources provide fitness benefits to riparian consumers. Riparian species take advantage of seasonal pulses of both terrestrial and aquatic prey, although aquatic resources are often overlooked in studies of how diet influences the reproductive ecology of these organisms. Ideally, the timing of resource pulses should occur at the time of highest reproductive demand. This study investigates the availability of aquatic (mayfly) and terrestrial (caterpillar) prey resources as well as the nestling diet of the prothonotary warbler (Protonotaria citrea) at two sites along the lower James River in Virginia during the 2014 breeding season. We found large differences in availability of prey items between the two sites, with one having significantly higher mayfly availability. Nestling diet was generally reflective of prey availability, and nestlings had faster mean growth rates at the site with higher aquatic prey availability. Terrestrial prey were fed more readily at the site with lower aquatic prey availability, and at this site, nestlings fed mayflies had higher mean growth rates than nestlings fed only terrestrial prey. Our results suggest that aquatic subsidies are an important resource for nestling birds and are crucial to understanding the breeding ecology of riparian species.

Keywords: Aquatic prey; food availability; migratory bird; phenology; prey subsidies.