The influence of food abundance, food dispersion and habitat structure on territory selection and size of an Afrotropical terrestrial insectivore


Most tropical insectivorous birds, unlike their temperate counterparts, hold and defend a feeding and breeding territory year-around. However, our understanding of ecological factors influencing territory selection and size in tropical insectivores is limited. Here we examine three prominent hypotheses relating food abundance, food dispersion (spatial arrangement of food items), and habitat structure to territoriality in the Usambara Thrush Turdus roehli. We first compared leaf-litter macro-invertebrate abundance and dispersion, and habitat structure between territories and random sites. We then examined the relation between these same ecological factors and territory size. Invertebrate abundance and dispersion were sparsely and evenly distributed across our study system and did not vary between territories and random sites. In contrast, habitat structure did vary between territories and random sites indicating the Usambara Thrush selects territories with open understorey and closed overstorey habitat. Invertebrate abundance and dispersion within territories of the Usambara Thrush were not associated with habitat structure. We believe the most likely explanation for the Usambara Thrush’s preference for open understorey and closed overstorey habitat relates to foraging behavior. Using information-theoretic model selection we found that invertebrate abundance was the highest-ranked predictor of territory size and was inversely related, consistent with food value theory of territoriality.

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