For species with very high energetic costs during reproduction we expect occurence during the reproduction season to be dramatically affected by the availability of energy. Recent studies have shown very high energetic costs of lekking for great snipe males, Gallinago media (Latham, 1787) and that breeding great snipes prefer to feed in soft soil with a high abundance of earthworms. We here evaluate the hypothesis that the breeding occurrence of great snipe is restricted to areas with very high availability of food. All the 125 registered great snipe leks in Scandinavia were situated in open habitats along the tree line. The occurrence of leks were analysed in relation to bedrock quality, soil chemistry and earthworm biomass. There was a strong positive relationship between soil pH and earthworm biomass. High pH values were found on or in the close vicinity of base‐rich bedrocks. No great snipe leks were documented in areas with acid soil, even if the extent of acid bedrocks along the tree line predicts that 31% of the leks should be situated on acid soils. Hypotheses, including both natural and sexual selection, for why breeding occurrence of great snipe is restricted to areas with high abundance of high quality food are evaluated, and we find indications for this to be a consequence of the very high energetic costs for the lekking males. These costs have probably evolved through female mate choice and indicate that sexual selection may have important consequences for a species distribution. Population‐level effects of sexual selection have previously received little attention. The stringent habitat demands here documented may also make great snipes vulnerable to environmental changes and can contribute to explain the dramatic reduction in breeding range of this species in western Europe during the past 150 years (Løfaldli et al., 1989).

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