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Agriculture and the life histories of Mauritius kestrels

Cartwright, S. J. (2012) Agriculture and the life histories of Mauritius kestrels. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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Habitat modification for agriculture is one of the greatest current threats to global biodiversity. Studies show large-scale population declines and short-term demographic impacts, but knowledge of the long-term effects of agriculture on individuals remains poor. This thesis examines the short- and long-term impact of agriculture on a reintroduced population of the Mauritius kestrel Falco punctatus, a tropical forest-dwelling raptor endemic to the island of Mauritius, that also utilises agricultural habitats. This population is a particularly appropriate model system, because complete life history data exists for individuals over a 22-year period, alongside detailed habitat and climate data. Agriculture has a short-term detrimental effect on Mauritius kestrel breeding success by exacerbating the seasonal decline in fledgling production. This is partly driven by the habitat-specific composition of the prey community that kestrels exploit to feed their chicks. The fledglings from agricultural territories tend to recruit in agricultural territories. This is largely due to poor natal dispersal and fine-scale spatial autocorrelation in the habitat matrix. Breeders do not respond to agriculture in the breeding territory by dispersing, unless the pair bond is broken. Therefore, individuals originating in agricultural territories tend to recruit, and remain in, agricultural territories throughout their lives. In addition to this, females from agricultural natal territories have shorter lifespans, schedule their peak reproductive output earlier in life, and exhibit more rapid senescence than non-agricultural females. The combination of this long-term effect and the adult experience of agriculture imposed by life history and environmental constraints, leads to a lower mean lifetime reproductive rate compared to females originating in non-agricultural habitats. These results demonstrate that agriculture experienced in early life has a lifelong effect on individuals. The effects can persist in time and space, with potentially delayed effects on population dynamics. These findings are important for understanding species’ responses to agricultural expansion.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Norris, K. and Nicoll, M.
Thesis/Report Department:Centre for Agri-Environmental Research
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Agriculture, Policy and Development
ID Code:37110
Date on Title Page:2011

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