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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2011

Pike predation affects breeding success and habitat selection of ducks

Dessborn, Lisa; Elmberg, Johan; Englund, Göran


1. Fish and ducks often belong to the same local food web, and several studies indicate that there is a general negative effect of fish on breeding ducks. This pattern has so far been addressed mainly within the framework of competition for common invertebrate prey, while predation by large fish as a force behind settlement and abundance patterns in ducks remains largely unknown. This is the first study to address the effect of fish predation on breeding ducks, isolated from that of competition, and the first experiment to explore the ability of ducks to identify and avoid lakes with high risk of fish predation. 
2. We used a before–after control–impact design and 11 naturally fishless lakes. Waterfowl on the lakes were surveyed during the breeding season of 2005. Large adult pike (Esox lucius) were added to two lakes in early spring 2008, and waterfowl surveys were repeated on all 11 lakes. 
3. Pike introduction did not affect the number of pairs on lakes during the nesting season in any of three focal duck species (mallardAnas platyrhynchos, tealAnas crecca, and goldeneyeBucephala clangula). During the brood-rearing season, however, there was a decrease in duck days in teal and goldeneye in lakes with pike, with similar trends observed in mallard. The number of goldeneye ducklings was also significantly lower in lakes with pike. We were unable to determine whether the response was attributable to direct pike predation or to broods leaving experimental lakes, but in either case, our study demonstrates high fitness costs for ducks breeding on lakes with pike. 
4. The apparent inability of nesting ducks to detect pike and the clear fitness implications may influence the annual recruitment of ducks on a larger scale as pike are both common and widespread. Vegetation complexity and food abundance are likely to be of overriding importance when breeding ducks are choosing a nesting site. As pike have a strong influence on breeding birds, relying on vegetation and cues of food abundance, while ignoring indicators of predation risk from fish, could lead to lakes with pike acting as an ecological trap.


duck; ecological trap; non-adaptive response; pike; predator avoidance

Published in

Freshwater Biology
2011, volume: 56, number: 3, pages: 579-589

Authors' information

Dessborn, Lisa
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Wildlife, Fish and Environmental Studies
Elmberg, Johan
Kristianstad University
Englund, Göran

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