We determined which factors predict the presence and abundance of Dusky Moorhens (Gallinula tenebrosa) at wetlands by surveying the ecological and habitat characteristics of 62 sites across south-east Queensland. Moorhens were observed in 48 of the sites sampled. They were more likely to be found at sites surrounded by taller terrestrial vegetation and where free-floating and attached aquatic vegetation was more abundant. The number of moorhens found at a site increased in relation to vegetation height, the abundance of attached aquatic vegetation and the number of purple swamphens observed. These results suggest that there are ecological constraints on the distribution of moorhens, and that food abundance and the availability of suitable nesting sites determine the overall distribution and abundance of moorhens in wetlands. Adult moorhens develop brightly coloured fleshy frontal shields, bills and legs when breeding, although in some populations birds maintain year-round colouration. We observed year-round breeding colouration in 23 out of 34 sampling sites that had moorhens and were surveyed in August. Coloured moorhens were found during winter at sites with higher minimum winter temperatures, and more abundant free-floating and submerged leafy vegetation. In addition, higher proportions of moorhens were coloured at sites with higher mean minimum temperatures. The retention of year-round breeding colouration appears to be restricted to areas with warmer winter temperatures and more abundant food. The results suggest that areas not occupied by moorhens are of idequate quality to support breeding populations. We suggest that ecological constraints on independent breeding in Dusky Moorhens may have favoured the evolution of their unusual cooperative breeding system, which involves frequent mate-sharing by both sexes.
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