Investigating the effects of predator removal and habitat management on nest success and breeding population size of a farmland passerine: a case study
White, P. J. C., Stoate, C., Szczur, J. and Norris, K. (2008) Investigating the effects of predator removal and habitat management on nest success and breeding population size of a farmland passerine: a case study. In: BOU Annual Meeting on Birds as Predators and as Prey, Leicester, ENGLAND, pp. 178-190.
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To link to this article DOI: 10.1111/j.1474-919X.2008.00858.x
Passerines are especially vulnerable to predation at the pre-independence stage. Although the role of nest success in British farmland passerine declines is contentious, improvement in nest success through sympathetic management could play a role in their reversal. Because habitat is known to interact with predation, management options for mitigation will need to consider effects of nest predation. We present results from an observational study of a population of Common Blackbird Turdus merula on a farm which has experienced a range of agri-environment and game-management options, including a period with nest predator control, as a case study to address some of these issues. We used an information theoretic model comparison procedure to look for evidence of interactions between habitat and nest predation, and then asked whether habitat management and nest predator abundances could explain population trends at the site through their effects on nest success. Interactions were detected between measures of predator abundance and habitat variables, and these varied with nest stage - habitat within the vicinity of the nest appeared to be important at the egg stage, and nest-placement characteristics were important at the nestling stage. Although predator control appeared to have a positive influence on Blackbird breeding population size, the non-experimental set-up meant we could not eliminate other potential explanations. Variation in breeding population size did not appear to be influenced by variation in nest success alone. Our study demonstrates that observational data can only go so far in detection of such effects, and we discuss how it might be taken further. Agri-environment and game-management techniques are likely to influence nest predation pressure on farmland passerines, but the patterns, mechanisms and importance to population processes remain not wholly understood.