Congruence among multiple indices of habitat preference for species facing human-induced rapid environmental change: a case study using the brewer's sparrow.
1. Accurate evaluations of habitat preference are key to understanding optimal conditions for wildlife survival and reproduction. Habitat selection, however, usually is evaluated using a single index of preference, and congruence among multiple, relevant indices of preference is examined rarely. 2. We assessed the concordance between patterns of habitat preference using three different indices of breeding site preference in a migratory songbird. Specifically, we compared the chronology of territorial establishment, pair formation and reproductive initiation of the Brewer's sparrow (Spizella breweri) along a gradient of surface disturbance associated with natural gas development in Wyoming, USA during 2019.3. We expected all three indices to demonstrate a preference for breeding sites with less surface disturbance, where reproductive success typically is higher. By contrast, all indices suggested suboptimal preference with respect to surface disturbance, with some discrepancy among them. The chronology of settlement and pairing did not vary across the disturbance gradient, whereas nest initiation tended to occur earlier at sites with more disturbance. 4. If the pattern of suboptimal selection of breeding sites that we identified is generalizable across other populations of migratory birds affected by energy development, the resultant lower fitness in those areas may exacerbate population declines. 5. Our results suggest that traditional, single-index approaches to the study of habitat selection, if chosen carefully, may provide adequate inference on habitat preferences. Different metrics, however, can lead to at least subtle differences in patterns of habitat selection. The simultaneous examination of multiple indices of preference across a diversity of systems would help clarify the contexts under which preference metrics can become decoupled.