Consistent nest-site selection across habitats increases fitness in Asian Houbara

Joao L. Guilherme, Robert J. Burnside, Nigel J. Collar, Paul M. Dolman

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Nest-site choice profoundly influences reproductive success and the survival of incubating adults. Asian Houbara (Chlamydotis macqueenii) nest in subtly contrasting habitats where the main cause of nest failure is predation. We examined nest-site selection across three semi-arid shrub habitats that differed in vegetation structure and hypothesized that increased concealment would reduce nest predation. We quantified vegetation structure at 210 nests and 194 random control sites at two scales, the ‘nest area’ (50 m radius, considering mean ‘shrub height’ and mean ‘shrub frequency’) and ‘nest scrape’ (2 m radius,  considering a ‘concealment index’). Variance ratio tests showed variance in both shrub height and concealment index were lower at nests than at random sites, indicating non-random selection. Analysis of the probability of nest occurrence for nest area indicated consistent selection of intermediate shrub heights (shrub height + shrub height2) in the Astragalus, Salsola arbuscula and S. rigida shrub assemblages (29.5–31.5 cm), although this was not supported statistically in S. rigida as the vegetation available was already similar to the optimal nest structure. Nest survival analysis, controlling for date, showed that shrub height (but not its quadratic term) in the nest area reduced nest predation rate. Females likely traded off nesting in even taller shrubs that may confer greater nest success against the ability to see approaching danger and thus to reduce the risk of being depredated themselves (head height during vigilance when incubating is ~30cm), as we have no records of females being depredated on the nest. At the nest scrape, females strongly selected better concealed locations, although the concealment index did not affect nest success. We suggest that concealing the scrape among shrubs may have other roles, such as thermoregulation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)192-205
Number of pages14
Issue number2
Early online date24 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018


  • nest placement
  • nest predation
  • nest success
  • nest survival
  • Vegetation structure
  • visual security
  • predation risk
  • Chlamydotis macqueenii

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