Evolutionary trap, urban ecology, nest survival, florida scrub jay


Individual organisms often use cues from their natural environments to determine many behavioral and life-history "decisions." These "decisions" are usually adaptive, i.e. a response to selection, because the environmental cues on which they are based reliably correlate with increased fitness over time. When the selected behavioral response to a natural cue no longer provides a fitness benefit, then selection for a new response may occur but individuals maintaining the previously selected response may suffer reduced survival and reproduction. Especially in human-modified landscapes individuals making a maladaptive behavioral or life-history choice based on those formerly reliable environmental cues may be faced with an "evolutionary trap". In urban, or suburban, environments many factors have been altered in ways that could lead to evolutionary traps. Inappropriate behavioral responses by many individuals could lead to reduced demographic performance of urban populations relative to their wildland counterparts and to the decline of entire urban populations. In birds, maladaptive patterns of nest provisioning or vigilance may occur (a) when human-provided adult foods are easier to feed young because they are more abundant and predictable than foods appropriate for nestlings, or (b) when birds' perception of predation risk, which can be influenced by human disturbance, is greater than the real risk. By provisioning or attending their nests more or less than what is appropriate given the environmental level of resources and risks, the behavior of suburban parents may be contributing to high levels of nest failure during the nesting stage. To determine whether maladaptive parental care influences nest survival during the nestling stage, I conducted an experiment using Florida Scrub-Jays (Aphelocoma coerluscens). Suburban scrub-jays have lower nest survival during the nestling stage but higher survival during the incubation stage relative to wildland jays. Both predators and food abundance vary greatly between suburban and wildland scrub. The suburbs have a greater abundance of predators that may prey on both adult scrub-jays and their nests and more foods appropriate for adults but less nestling-appropriate food. This variation in risks and resources should affect the parental care behavior of suburban scrub-jays, which in turn may affect patterns of nest survival. In pre-treatment observations, I found that suburban females spent more time brooding than wildland birds but suburban males did not provision any more than wildland males. Experimentally increasing the perception of adult predation risk reduced parental care in both suburban and wildland females. Increasing the availability of nestling food reduced parental care in suburban females but had no effect in wildland females. Increasing food availability, but not predation risk, decreased call rates but increased call frequency in nestling scrub-jays from both habitats. However, neither parental care nor food availability had much influence on nest survival during the nestling stage. Instead, side nest concealment and the presence of helpers were the most important variables in nest survival analyses prompting other explanations besides maladaptive parental behavior or lack of nestling food resources for the habitat-specific difference in nest survival during the nestling stage.


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Graduation Date





Jenkins, David


Master of Science (M.S.)


College of Sciences



Degree Program









Release Date

May 2012

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Masters Thesis (Open Access)


Dissertations, Academic -- Sciences;Sciences -- Dissertations, Academic

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