Ant presence, abundance and diversity: food availability for the endangered wryneck

    General Outline

    Insectivorous farmland birds that forage on the ground are declining in most European countries. These species often are of particular conservation concern, such as the endangered wryneck (Jynx torquilla). The wryneck is an atypical woodpecker, migrating and spending the winter on the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa.

    In the second half of the 20th century the Swiss wryneck population has strongly declined mainly due to agricultural intensification, which has reduced the availability of ant rich habitats and breeding cavities. Although widely distributed throughout the country, the Swiss population nowadays presents mostly low densities or isolated territories. Current recovery projects and measures, such as providing nestboxes for breeding, have contributed to the recovery of the Swiss wryneck population in the last few years.

    In Switzerland the wryneck breeds in different semi-open habitats, such as traditional orchards, vineyards, light woodland or parks. These habitats potentially hold high densities of ant nests and a high density of possible breeding cavities. However, very little is known about the availability patterns of ants as food resource for birds in general and about the role of ants influencing the wryneck breeding habitat selection in particular.

    The aim of this master thesis is to investigate the spatiotemporal patterns of ant availability in different breeding habitats suitable for the wryneck. This MSc thesis is part of a conservation project of the Swiss Ornithological Institute aiming to expand the distribution of the wryneck in Switzerland.



    Field work in the study area comprises two main tasks: ant sampling and habitat characterization. The sampling to determine the presence, density and diversity of ants is carried out during two periods that are crucial in the life cycle of the wryneck: settlement (April to May) and breeding (June to July). The study area covers several regions in the northern and north-eastern part of Switzerland (Jurasüdfuss, Schaffhausen, Walensee-Sarganserland) and includes a gradient in habitat types, habitat quality, habitat management and landscape composition. Over 50 sites in the study area have already been sampled for ants during a pilot study in 2019. Analyses will include these existing data and be carried out in Sempach. Accommodation in the study area is provided.



    Interest in conservation biology and applied ecology; driving license; enjoying field work (long days!); time flexibility (field work possible also at the weekend); independent and responsible personality. This project should be started not later than February 2020, field work taking place from April to July.



    Schweizerische Vogelwarte
    Dr. Matthias Vögeli
    6204 Sempach
    email: / Tel: 041 462 97 53