Anthropogenically-mediated density dependence in a declining farmland bird

Dunn, Jenny C. and Hamer, Keith C. and Benton, Tim G. (2015) Anthropogenically-mediated density dependence in a declining farmland bird. PLoS One, 10 (10). e0139492. ISSN 1932-6203

Full content URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0139492

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Abstract

Land management intrinsically influences the distribution of animals and can consequently
alter the potential for density-dependent processes to act within populations. For declining
species, high densities of breeding territories are typically considered to represent productive populations. However, as density-dependent effects of food limitation or predator pressure may occur (especially when species are dependent upon separate nesting and foraging habitats), high territory density may limit per-capita productivity. Here, we use a declining but widespread European farmland bird, the yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella L., as a model system to test whether higher territory densities result in lower fledging success, parental provisioning rates or nestling growth rates compared to lower densities. Organic landscapes held higher territory densities, but nests on organic farms fledged fewer nestlings, translating to a 5 times higher rate of population shrinkage on organic farms compared to conventional. In addition, when parental provisioning behaviour was not restricted by predation risk (i.e., at times of low corvid activity), nestling provisioning rates were higher at lower territory densities, resulting in a much greater increase in nestling mass in low density areas, suggesting that food limitation occurred at high densities. These findings in turn suggest an ecological trap, whereby preferred nesting habitat does not provide sufficient food for rearing nestlings at high population density, creating a population sink. Habitat management for farmland birds should focus not simply on creating a high nesting density, but also on ensuring heterogeneous habitats to provide food resources in close proximity to nesting birds, even if this occurs through potentially restricting overall nest density but increasing population-level breeding success.

Keywords:None, JCOpen
Subjects:D Veterinary Sciences, Agriculture and related subjects > D447 Environmental Conservation
C Biological Sciences > C120 Behavioural Biology
C Biological Sciences > C180 Ecology
C Biological Sciences > C110 Applied Biology
D Veterinary Sciences, Agriculture and related subjects > D460 Organic Farming
C Biological Sciences > C100 Biology
Divisions:College of Science > School of Life Sciences
ID Code:25338
Deposited On:20 Dec 2016 15:37

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