© Marcel Burkhardt
Apolloni, N., M. U. Grüebler, R. Arlettaz, T. K. Gottschalk & B. Naef-Daenzer (2018)
Habitat selection and range use of little owls in relation to habitat patterns at three spatial scales.
Anim. Cons. 21: 65–75
Understanding the rules of habitat selection and the individual behavioural routines in the home-range is crucial for developing evidence-based conservation action. We investigated habitat selection and range use of adult little owls Athene noctua in relation to landscape configuration, habitat structure and resource distribution. We determined the preference of habitat structures by VHF-telemetry. Large- and fine-scale distribution patterns of voles – the main prey during the breeding season – were assessed by transect counts of signs of vole presence. An experiment using artificial perches was carried out to determine the fine-scale adjustment of the owls’ range use in relation to prey abundance and vegetation height. Habitat selection and resource exploitation by little owls were structured at all spatial levels: (1) at the landscape scale, orchards were highly preferred over other areas. This accords with the patchy large-scale occurrence of voles, which were absent in cropland, but abundant in orchards and grassland; (2) within home-ranges, the spatial distribution of voles was highly inhomogeneous and structures with high prey abundance were used over-proportionally; (3) at the scale of foraging sites, little owls preferred patches with low vegetation over those with high prey abundance, establishing that prey availability is the crux. The results suggest that all levels of habitat selection and range use were related to farming practices and affected by current cultivation. Conservation measures should focus on the conservation and restoration of orchards on the landscape level and habitat management measures should focus on grasslands – the main food providers – by creating a mosaic of patches with short grass and tall grass. Together with other habitat structures providing food resources such as field edges, wildflower areas and structures facilitating access to prey, the quality of habitat patches in terms of food availability may be highly improved.
key words: Athene noctua, food abundance, habitat selection, landscape configuration, little owl, radio-telemetry, range use, resource distribution