Habitat preferences of lesser rheas in Argentine Patagonia
This work reports the first results of a 3-year study (19982001) on habitat use and preferences by wild lesser rheas (Rhea pennata pennata) in the ecotone MontePatagonian steppe of Argentina.
Ponds and four different habitat alternatives for lesser rheas were determined using satellite images and different structural vegetation characteristics: steppe, shrubland, shrub steppe, and mallines. Lesser rheas (adults, juveniles and chicks) used all habitats available to feed, although they showed preference for mallines, open areas that offer good visibility and abundant food resource. Rheas used shrub steppe and steppe for nesting, but they did not show preference for either habitat type. Nest site had a higher percentage of vegetation cover than control sites. Lesser rheas apparently preferred concealed sites for nesting since they offer protection from severe climate conditions and from predators. Our results suggest that habitat preference by lesser rheas counterbalances profitability of feeding to the corresponding cost of predation.