How to translate text using browser tools
29 August 2020 Tree Swallow selection for wetlands in agricultural landscapes predicted by central-place foraging theory
Andrew S. Elgin, Robert G. Clark, Christy A. Morrissey
Author Affiliations +

Millions of wetland basins, embedded in croplands and grasslands, are biodiversity hotspots in North America's Prairie Pothole Region, but prairie wetlands continue to be degraded and drained, primarily for agricultural activities. Aerial insectivorous swallows are known to forage over water, but it is unclear whether swallows exhibit greater selection for wetlands relative to other habitats in croplands and grasslands. Central-place foraging theory suggests that habitat selectivity should increase with traveling distance from a central place, such that foragers compensate for traveling costs by selecting more profitable foraging habitat. Using global positioning system (GPS) tags, we evaluated habitat selection by female Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) at 4 sites containing wetlands and where terrestrial land cover was dominated by grasslands (grass, herbaceous cover) and/or cultivated cropland. We also used sweep-net transects to assess the abundance and biomass of flying insects in different habitats available to swallows (wetland pond margins, grassy field margins, and representative uplands). As expected for a central-place forager, GPS-tagged swallows selected more for wetland ponds (disproportionate to availability), and appeared to increasingly select for wetlands with increasing distance from their nests. On cropland-dominated sites, insect abundance and biomass tended to be higher in pond margins or grassy field margins compared to cropped uplands, while abundance and biomass were more uniform among sampled habitats at sites dominated by grass and herbaceous cover. Swallow habitat selection was not clearly explained by the distribution of sampled insects among habitats; however, traditional terrestrial sampling methods may not adequately reflect prey distribution and availability to aerially foraging swallows. Overall, our results underscore the importance of protecting and enhancing prairie wetlands and other non-crop habitats in agricultural landscapes, given their disproportionate use and capacity to support breeding swallow and insect populations.


  • Miniature GPS tags were used to track breeding female Tree Swallows at agricultural sites.

  • Across agroecosystems, Tree Swallows selected more for wetland ponds than available in the landscape.

  • Swallows increasingly selected for wetland ponds with increasing distance from nests, consistent with central-place foraging theory.

  • Insect abundance and biomass tended to be greater in pond margins and non-crop vegetation (field margins or grasslands) than in croplands, but insect distribution patterns did not fully explain swallow habitat selection.

Copyright © American Ornithological Society 2020. All rights reserved. For permissions, e-mail:
Andrew S. Elgin, Robert G. Clark, and Christy A. Morrissey "Tree Swallow selection for wetlands in agricultural landscapes predicted by central-place foraging theory," The Condor 122(4), 1-12, (29 August 2020).
Received: 17 March 2020; Accepted: 16 June 2020; Published: 29 August 2020
aerial insectivore
central-place foraging
habitat selection
PinPoint GPS
prairie pothole
resource selection function
Get copyright permission
Back to Top