Habitat-mediated breeding performance of Lewis's Woodpeckers (Melanerpes lewis) in British Columbia.
Tree cavities provide a critical resource for cavity-nesting animals, and high quality cavities can be difficult for animals to acquire in habitats where competition is high. We investigated the breeding performance of Lewis's Woodpeckers in three habitat types in British Columbia, Canada in 2013 and 2014. We also assessed whether the number of nest competitors and cavity availability influenced the habitat specific breeding performance of this threatened cavity nesting species. We found that daily nest survival rate was lower in burned habitat (0.15±0.08 (0.05-0.37)) than in live pine (0.72±0.10 (0.51-0.87)) or cottonwood (0.69±0.09 (0.51-0.83)) habitats. However, hatching success (the proportion of eggs that hatch) was lower in live pine habitat (0.59±0.09 95% CI) than burned (0.77±0.19 95% CI) or cottonwood (0.80±0.07 95% CI) habitat, and the fledging success of successful nests in live pine and burned habitat (1.86±0.31 and 1.88±0.59 95% CI, respectively) was slightly lower than in cottonwood habitat (2.61±0.45 95% CI). Consequently, Lewis's Woodpeckers in cottonwood habitat produced more fledglings per nesting attempt (2.05±0.49 95% CI) than in live pine (1.53±0.35 95% CI) or burned (0.79±0.49 95% CI) habitat. Habitats differed in the number of nesting competitors and the number of suitable cavities surrounding active Lewis's Woodpecker nests. Our results showed that cavity density best explained breeding performance differences although the mechanisms remain unclear. There was no evidence that the number of heterospecific nest competitors, including the invasive European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris), explained or influenced Lewis's Woodpecker breeding performance. Cavity density influenced the productivity of successful nests but did not explain habitat differences in hatching success or daily nest survival. Further work is required to understand the mechanistic basis for the habitat specific breeding performance of Lewis's Woodpeckers. Habitat differences in breeding performance in British Columbia are not consistent with those in other regions, highlighting the importance of regionally-specific demographic data for managing species at risk.