Nägeli, M., P. Scherler, S. Witczak, B. Catitti, A. Aebischer, V. van Bergen, U. Kormann & M. U. Grüebler (2021)

Weather and food availability additively affect reproductive output in an expanding raptor population.

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The joint effects of interacting environmental factors on key demographic parameters can exacerbate or mitigate the separate factors’ effects on population dynamics. Given ongoing changes in climate and land use, assessing interactions between weather and food availability on reproductive performance is crucial to understand and forecast population dynamics. By conducting a feeding experiment in 4 years with different weather conditions, we were able to disentangle the effects of weather, food availability and their interactions on reproductive parameters in an expanding population of the red kite (Milvus milvus), a conservation-relevant raptor known to be supported by anthropogenic feeding. Brood loss occurred mainly during the incubation phase, and was associated with rainfall and low food availability. In contrast, brood loss during the nestling phase occurred mostly due to low temperatures. Survival of last-hatched nestlings and nestling development was enhanced by food supplementation and reduced by adverse weather conditions. However, we found no support for interactive effects of weather and food availability, suggesting that these factors affect reproduction of red kites additively. The results not only suggest that food-weather interactions are prevented by parental life-history trade-offs, but that food availability and weather conditions are crucial separate determinants of reproductive output, and thus population productivity. Overall, our results suggest that the observed increase in spring temperatures and enhanced anthropogenic food resources have contributed to the elevational expansion and the growth of the study population during the last decades.
Keywords Food supplementation, Milvus milvus, Nest survival, Nestling survival, Nestling development