Changes in grassland management and linear infrastructures associated to the decline of an endangered bird population.
ABSTRACT: European grassland birds are experiencing major population declines, mainly due to changes in farmland management. We analyzed the role of habitat availability, grazing management and linear infrastructures (roads and power lines) in explaining spatial and temporal variation in the population density of little bustards (Tetrax tetrax) in Portugal, during a decade in which the species population size halved. We used data from 51 areas (totaling ca. 1,50,000 ha) that were sampled in two different periods (2003-2006 and 2016). In 2003-2006, when the species occurred at high densities, habitat availability was the only factor affecting spatial variation in bustard density. In the 2016 survey, variation in density was explained by habitat availability and livestock management, with reduced bird numbers in areas with higher proportions of cattle. Population declines across the study period were steeper in areas that initially held higher densities of bustards and in areas with a higher proportion of cattle in the total stocking rate. Areas with higher densities of power lines also registered greater density declines, probably due to avoidance behavior and to increased mortality. Overall, our results show little bustards are currently lacking high quality grassland habitat, whose persistence depends on extensive grazing regimes and low linear infrastructure densities.
Project description:BACKGROUND:Identifying the factors that affect ranging behavior of animals is a central issue to ecology and an essential tool for designing effective conservation policies. This knowledge provides the information needed to predict the consequences of land-use change on species habitat use, especially in areas subject to major habitat transformations, such as agricultural landscapes. We evaluate inter-individual variation relative to environmental predictors and spatial constraints in limiting ranging behavior of female little bustards (Tetrax tetrax) in the non-breeding season. Our analyses were based on 11 females tracked with GPS during 5 years in northeastern Spain. We conducted deviance partitioning analyses based on different sets of generalized linear mixed models constructed with environmental variables and spatial filters obtained by eigenvector mapping, while controlling for temporal and inter-individual variation. RESULTS:The occurrence probability of female little bustards in response to environmental variables and spatial filters within the non-breeding range exhibited inter-individual consistency. Pure spatial factors and joint spatial-habitat factors explained most of the variance in the models. Spatial predictors representing aggregation patterns at?~?18 km and 3-5 km respectively had a high importance in female occurrence. However, pure habitat effects were also identified. Terrain slope, alfalfa, corn stubble and irrigated cereal stubble availability were the variables that most contributed to environmental models. Overall, models revealed a non-linear negative effect of slope and positive effects of intermediate values of alfalfa and corn stubble availability. High levels of cereal stubble in irrigated land and roads had also a positive effect on occurrence at the population level. CONCLUSIONS:Our results provide evidence that female little bustard ranging behavior was spatially constrained beyond environmental variables during the non-breeding season. This pattern may result from different not mutually exclusive processes, such as cost-benefit balances of animal movement, configurational heterogeneity of environment or from high site fidelity and conspecific attraction. Measures aimed at keeping alfalfa availability and habitat heterogeneity in open landscapes and flat terrains, in safe places close to breeding grounds, could contribute to protect little bustard populations during the non-breeding season.
Project description:Background:Few studies have assessed the effectiveness of the Protected Area networks on the conservation status of target species. Here, we assess the effectiveness of the Portuguese Natura 2000 (the European Union network of protected areas) in maintaining a species included in the Annex I of the Bird Directive, namely the population of a priority farmland bird, the little bustard Tetrax tetrax. Methods:We measured the effectiveness of the Natura 2000 by comparing population trends across time (2003-2006 and 2016) in 51 areas, 21 of which within 12 Special Protection Areas (SPA) that were mostly designated for farmland bird conservation and another 30 areas without EU protection. Results:Overall, the national population is estimated to have declined 49% over the last 10-14 years. This loss was found to be proportionally larger outside SPA (64% decline) compared to losses within SPA (25% decline). However, the absolute male density decline was significantly larger within SPA . Discussion:In spite of holding higher population densities and having prevented habitat loss, we conclude that Natura 2000 was not effective in buffering against the overall bustard population decline. Results show that the mere designation of SPA in farmland is not enough to secure species populations and has to be combined with agricultural policies and investment to maintain not only habitat availability but also habitat quality.
Project description:Interspecific competition is a dominant force in animal communities that induces niche shifts in ecological and evolutionary time. If competition occurs, niche expansion can be expected when the competitor disappears because resources previously inaccessible due to competitive constraints can then be exploited (i.e., ecological release). Here, we aimed to determine the potential effects of interspecific competition between the little bustard (<i>Tetrax tetrax</i>) and the great bustard (<i>Otis tarda</i>) using a multidimensional niche approach with habitat distribution data. We explored whether the degree of niche overlap between the species was a density-dependent function of interspecific competition. We then looked for evidences of ecological release by comparing measures of niche breadth and position of the little bustard between allopatric and sympatric situations. Furthermore, we evaluated whether niche shifts could depend not only on the presence of great bustard but also on the density of little and great bustards. The habitat niches of these bustard species partially overlapped when co-occurring, but we found no relationship between degree of overlap and great bustard density. In the presence of the competitor, little bustard's niche was displaced toward increased use of the species' primary habitat. Little bustard's niche breadth decreased proportionally with great bustard density in sympatric sites, in consistence with theory. Overall, our results suggest that density-dependent variation in little bustard's niche is the outcome of interspecific competition with the great bustard. The use of computational tools like kernel density estimators to obtain multidimensional niches should bring novel insights on how species' ecological niches behave under the effects of interspecific competition in ecological communities.
Project description:Conservation grazing for breeding birds needs to balance the positive effects on vegetation structure and negative effects of nest trampling. In the UK, populations of Common redshank <i>Tringa totanus</i> breeding on saltmarshes declined by >50% between 1985 and 2011. These declines have been linked to changes in grazing management. The highest breeding densities of redshank on saltmarshes are found in lightly grazed areas. Conservation initiatives have encouraged low-intensity grazing at <1 cattle/ha, but even these levels of grazing can result in high levels of nest trampling. If livestock distribution is not spatially or temporally homogenous but concentrated where and when redshank breed, rates of nest trampling may be much higher than expected based on livestock density alone. By GPS tracking cattle on saltmarshes and monitoring trampling of dummy nests, this study quantified (i) the spatial and temporal distribution of cattle in relation to the distribution of redshank nesting habitats and (ii) trampling rates of dummy nests. The distribution of livestock was highly variable depending on both time in the season and the saltmarsh under study, with cattle using between 3% and 42% of the saltmarsh extent and spending most their time on higher elevation habitat within 500 m of the sea wall, but moving further onto the saltmarsh as the season progressed. Breeding redshank also nest on these higher elevation zones, and this breeding coincides with the early period of grazing. Probability of nest trampling was correlated to livestock density and was up to six times higher in the areas where redshank breed. This overlap in both space and time of the habitat use of cattle and redshank means that the trampling probability of a nest can be much higher than would be expected based on standard measures of cattle density. <i>Synthesis and applications</i>: Because saltmarsh grazing is required to maintain a favorable vegetation structure for redshank breeding, grazing management should aim to keep livestock away from redshank nesting habitat between mid-April and mid-July when nests are active, through delaying the onset of grazing or introducing a rotational grazing system.
Project description:This study aimed to understand the movement behaviour and utilization distributions of Kori bustards in space and time in the Serengeti ecosystem. A total of 14 individuals were tracked with the aid of GPS (Geographical positioning system) satellite transmitters, and their sexes were identified using DNA analysis. A species utilization distribution was estimated using the Brownian bridge movement model (hereafter dBBMM) in which the probability of being in an area is conditioned by starting and ending (GPS) relocations. Resource selections were analysed by comparing the GPS relocations with locations randomly placed within each individual's region of utilization in a spatio-temporal approach. Vegetation information was derived from a Serengeti GIS vegetation map and Data Centre and was reclassified as Open grassland, Dense grassland, Shrubbed grassland, Treed grassland, Shrubland, and Woodland. The Shannon diversity index for vegetation was calculated based on the original vegetation classification. Used versus non-used habitats were contrasted using a generalized linear mixed-effects model with a binomial distribution. The results indicated that males were 21.5% more mobile than females, and movements were 6.3% more diffuse during the non-breeding period compared to the breeding period (7.59 versus 7.14, respectively). Contrasting models indicated that males preferred more open grasslands during the non-breeding period and also preferred closed and shrubbed grassland during the breeding period. Females preferred more woody vegetation during the non-breeding season compared to the breeding season. The most parsimonious model indicated that females preferred to stay closer to rivers and diverse areas during the non-breeding period whereas males preferred areas that were farther from rivers and homogenous. Homogeneous areas were preferred during the breeding period, and heterogeneous areas were preferred during the non-breeding period. We conclude that the movement behaviours of Kori bustards changes with the season and habitat. Further research is needed to understand the factors driving the seasonal movement of Kori bustards in the Serengeti ecosystem.
Project description:One of the most important conservation issues in ecology is the imperiled state of grassland ecosystems worldwide due to land conversion, desertification, and the loss of native populations and species. The Janos region of northwestern Mexico maintains one of the largest remaining black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) colony complexes in North America and supports a high diversity of threatened and endangered species. Yet, cattle grazing, agriculture, and drought have greatly impacted the region. We evaluated the impact of human activities on the Janos grasslands, comparing changes in the vertebrate community over the last two decades. Our results reveal profound, rapid changes in the Janos grassland community, demonstrating large declines in vertebrate abundance across all taxonomic groups. We also found that the 55,000 ha prairie dog colony complex has declined by 73% since 1988. The prairie dog complex has become increasingly fragmented, and their densities have shown a precipitous decline over the years, from an average density of 25 per ha in 1988 to 2 per ha in 2004. We demonstrated that prairie dogs strongly suppressed woody plant encroachment as well as created open grassland habitat by clearing woody vegetation, and found rapid invasion of shrubland once the prairie dogs disappeared from the grasslands. Comparison of grasslands and shrublands showed markedly different species compositions, with species richness being greatest when both habitats were considered together. Our data demonstrate the rapid decline of a grassland ecosystem, and documents the dramatic loss in biodiversity over a very short time period concomitant with anthropogenic grassland degradation and the decline of a keystone species.
Project description:Grassland birds have exhibited dramatic and widespread declines since the mid-20th century. Greater prairie chickens (<i>Tympanuchus cupido pinnatus</i>) are considered an umbrella species for grassland conservation and are frequent targets of management, but their responses to land use and management can be quite variable. We used data collected during 2007-2009 and 2014-2015 to investigate effects of land use and grassland management practices on habitat selection and survival rates of greater prairie chickens in central Wisconsin, USA. We examined habitat, nest-site, and brood-rearing site selection by hens and modeled effects of land cover and management on survival rates of hens, nests, and broods. Prairie chickens consistently selected grassland over other cover types, but selection or avoidance of management practices varied among life-history stages. Hen, nest, and brood survival rates were influenced by different land cover types and management practices. At the landscape scale, hens selected areas where brush and trees had been removed during the previous year, which increased hen survival. Hens selected nest sites in hay fields and brood-rearing sites in burned areas, but prescribed fire had a negative influence on hen survival. Brood survival rates were positively associated with grazing and were highest when home ranges contained ?15%-20% shrub/tree cover. The effects of landscape composition on nest survival were ambiguous. Collectively, our results highlight the importance of evaluating responses to management efforts across a range of life-history stages and suggest that a variety of management practices are likely necessary to provide structurally heterogeneous, high-quality habitat for greater prairie chickens. Brush and tree removal, grazing, hay cultivation, and prescribed fire may be especially beneficial for prairie chickens in central Wisconsin, but trade-offs among life-history stages and the timing of management practices must be considered carefully.
Project description:BACKGROUND:The availability of preferred habitats determines the spatial and temporal distribution of herbivores in savanna ecosystems. Understanding habitat preference of a targeted wildlife species is crucial for developing effective conservation strategies. Habitat preference of large grazers in connection to grass height and post-fire effect has been debated for the last century. Here, we examined the effects of season, grass height and burning on the habitat preference on Swayne's hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus swaynei) in Maze National Park. Data for seasonal habitat selection were collected using both direct observation along established transect lines and pellet counting using permanently established plots. Every month, we measured grass height commonly preferred by Swayne's hartebeest in grassland habitat. Starting from the first week of burning, we recorded the abundance of Swayne's hartebeest in both burned and unburned grassland patches. RESULTS:From detected pellets, 94.3% were recorded in the grassland habitat indicating that other habitat types are less used despite their extensive cover?>?50% of the Park. During wet and early dry seasons, Swayne's hartebeest exclusively preferred grassland habitat. We found that 85.2% (n?=?1079) and 85.3% (n?=?593) of individuals observed in areas with a grass height below 30 cm during wet and early-dry seasons, respectively; while 70.9% (n?=?2288) preferred grass height below 30 cm during the dry season. The density of Swayne's hartebeest in burned grassland area was higher than unburned grassland areas up to 150 days since burning. However, in unburned grassland areas, the density was initially low but showed increasing trend for consecutive days, reaching similar density with burned areas after 150 days since burning. CONCLUSION:Swayne's hartebeest exclusively preferred grassland habitat, particularly during wet and early-dry seasons, shortest available grass height in all seasons and were attracted to burned grassland areas. Our results suggested that fire played an important role in maintaining habitat quality in grassland, and that management should continue using controlled burning as a tool for the conservation of Swayne's hartebeest. However, we remain cautious of our findings given the paucity of information regarding other confounding factors and the absence of long-term data on fire disturbance.
Project description:Severe declines in biodiversity have been well documented for many taxonomic groups due to intensification of agricultural practices. Establishment and appropriate management of arable field margins can improve the diversity and abundance of invertebrate groups; however, there is much less research on field margins within grassland systems. Three grassland field margin treatments (fencing off the existing vegetation "fenced"; fencing with rotavation and natural regeneration "rotavated" and; fencing with rotavation and seeding "seeded") were compared to a grazed control in the adjacent intensively managed pasture. Invertebrates were sampled using emergence traps to investigate species breeding and overwintering within the margins. Using a manipulation experiment, we tested whether the removal of grazing pressure and nutrient inputs would increase the abundance and richness of breeding invertebrates within grassland field margins. We also tested whether field margin establishment treatments, with their different vegetation communities, would change the abundance and richness of breeding invertebrates in the field margins. Exclusion of grazing and nutrient inputs led to increased abundance and richness in nearly all invertebrate groups that we sampled. However, there were more complex effects of field margin establishment treatment on the abundance and richness of invertebrate taxa. Each of the three establishment treatments supported a distinct invertebrate community. The removal of grazing from grassland field margins provided a greater range of overwintering/breeding habitat for invertebrates. We demonstrate the capacity of field margin establishment to increase the abundance and richness in nearly all invertebrate groups in study plots that were located on previously more depauperate areas of intensively managed grassland. These results from grassland field margins provide evidence to support practical actions that can inform Greening (Pillar 1) and agri-environment measures (Pillar 2) of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Before implementing specific management regimes, the conservation aims of agri-environment measures should be clarified by defining the target species or taxonomic groups.
Project description:The Araneoidea comprises a diverse group of web-building spiders, and part of this diversity is believed attributable to habitat expansion to bright environments. We clarified the fitness-related advantages of living in such environments by examining prey availability and the growth rates of 10 species in three families inhabiting grassland (bright) and forest understory (dim) habitats. Spiders in the grassland habitat captured more prey, derived mainly from the grazing food web, than those in the forest-floor environment, and this difference was manifested in their growth rate. Independent contrasts indicated that increased utilization of insects from the grazing food web led to an evolutionary increase in adult body size. These results suggest that the shift to bright environments enabled araneoid spiders to evolve diverse life-history traits, including rapid growth and large size, which were not possible in dim environments.