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Science  12 Jul 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6142, pp. 111
DOI: 10.1126/science.341.6142.111-c
CREDIT: STEVE MASLOWSKI

Dispersing juveniles face the daunting task of settling in habitat that will allow them to both survive and reproduce. Our understanding of this habitat selection process is largely based on ideal free distribution (IDF) theory, which proposes that individuals assort within habitats based on the available resources, thus high-quality habitats will attract and support more animals. As with most theories, reality often contradicts IDF patterns, suggesting that other processes are at work. In particular, often individuals colonize a poor habitat even when a good habitat is available. Piper et al. followed individual long-lived common loons from fledging to adulthood over 20 years. They found that dispersers preferentially colonized lakes similar to their natal lakes, particularly in terms of size and alkalinity, even when habitats of higher quality were readily available. This preference was pronounced for the first habitat selected postdispersal and waned later, when animals seemed to select for habitats that facilitated the greatest reproductive success. This temporal change suggests that familiar conditions may be beneficial to young animals as they learn survival skills and that habitat of the highest quality is only important when reproducing becomes a greater challenge than surviving.

Proc. R. Soc. London Ser. B 280, 10.1098/rspb.2013.0979 (2013).

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