Breeding Ecology of the Mountain Plover (Charadrius montanus) in Phillips County, Montana
Reproduction is a central aspect of an organism's ecology and life history. Understanding a species’ reproductive ecology is critical to informing any conservation or management actions. Using data from a population of Mountain Plovers (Charadrius montanus) in Phillips County, Montana, I introduce a general, model-based approach to estimating nest detection probability based on individual, group, environmental and temporal covariates. I found nest detection probability in Mountain Plovers was influenced by nest initiation date, breeding area size, day of season, nest age, observer experience level, nest fate, daily high temperature and daily precipitation. Single-visit detection probability ranged from <0.10 to >0.80, clearly demonstrating the need for a model-based approach that accounts for individual heterogeneity. I analyzed the spatial patterning of Mountain Plover nests on Black-Tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) colonies and attempted to link spatial characteristics of nests to nest survival. I found that nests were more dispersed at small spatial scales (<200 m) than would be expected under complete spatial randomness and that male-tended nests were more isolated than female-tended nests but that nest placement had no significant effect on daily nest survival. I analyzed the survival of dependent Mountain Plover chicks from hatch to fledging using resighting data of marked adults. My best model included effects of chick age, day of season, daily temperature, and daily precipitation. However, this model did not predict chick survival with good precision. Collectively, these results advance our understanding of avian breeding ecology in general and the Mountain Plover in particular.