Do alien predators pose a particular risk to duck nests in Northern Europe? Results from an artificial nest experiment.
Several alien predator species have spread widely in Europe during the last five decades and pose a potential enhanced risk to native nesting ducks and their eggs. Because predation is an important factor limiting Northern Hemisphere duck nest survival, we ask the question, do alien species increase the nest loss risk to ground nesting ducks? We created 418 artificial duck nests in low densities around inland waters in Finland and Denmark during 2017-2019 and monitored them for seven days after construction using wildlife cameras to record whether alien species visit and prey on the nests more often than native species. We sampled various duck breeding habitats from eutrophic agricultural lakes and wetlands to oligotrophic lakes and urban environments. The results differed between habitats and the two countries, which likely reflect the local population densities of the predator species. The raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides), an alien species, was the most common mammalian nest visitor in all habitats and its occurrence reduced nest survival. Only in wetland habitats was the native red fox (Vulpes vulpes) an equally common nest visitor, where another alien species, the American mink (Neovison vison), also occurred among nest visitors. Although cautious about concluding too much from visitations to artificial nests, these results imply that duck breeding habitats in Northern Europe already support abundant and effective alien nest predators, whose relative frequency of visitation to artificial nests suggest that they potentially add to the nest predation risk to ducks over native predators.