Influence of anthropogenic development on Burrowing Owl habitat selection and fitness

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Corey holding a burrowing owl, photo by Kent Russell.

Bayne lab member Corey Scobie is defending his thesis on Wednesday, June 3, 2015 at 9am at the University of Alberta in Biological Sciences Building CW313. Come check out his public seminar: “influence of anthropogenic development on Burrowing Owl habitat selection and fitness.”

Anthropogenic development may influence the choices animals make and their resulting fitness. I examined habitat selection of Burrowing Owls at several scales and their resulting breeding season fitness. First, I identified the types of landscapes features Burrowing Owls prefer to have around their nest and examined the relationship between these preferred features and fitness. They prefer to nest in landscapes with more annual crop and more road surfaces; features that had an unexpected positive influence on fledging rate. Second, I tracked adult male Burrowing Owls with GPS dataloggers and examined owl space-use during the day and night. During the day, Burrowing Owls spent more time near fences and posts, but avoided roads with high traffic speeds. At night, human infrastructure influenced where owls spent time more than artificial sound and light. However, owl selection of landscape features at night did not predict reproductive success. Instead, I found owls that spent more time near the nest burrow at night had the greatest nest survival and fledging rates. Burrowing Owls are a generalist species that is able to breed successfully in developed landscapes.

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Burrowing owl on a fence post, photo by Janet Ng.