Grüebler, M. U., H. Schuler, M. Müller, R. Spaar, P. Horch & B. Naef-Daenzer (2008)

Female biased mortality caused by anthropogenic nest loss contributes to population decline and adult sex ratio of a meadow bird.

Further information

Biol. Conserv. 141: 3040–3049



Meadow breeding birds such as the whinchat Saxicola rubetra have been declining due to increased farming intensity. In modern grassland management, the first mowing and the bird´s breeding cycle coincide, causing high nest destruction rates and low productivity of grassland bird populations. However, it is virtually unknown whether the mowing process directly affects adult survival by accidentally killing incubating females. We studied adult survival of an Alpine whinchat population during two breeding seasons using either colour-ringing or radio-tracking of 71 adults. Assessing territories, mowing phenology and nest destruction from 1988 to 2007 allowed changes in the factors associated with female mowing mortality to be estimated. Adult survival over 5-day-periods was U = 0.986, but during the period of mowing female survival was strongly reduced (U = 0.946). As a result, 80.6% of the males, but only 68.4% of the females survived the breeding season. Mowing undoubtedly killed two of 20 radio-tagged females when they were laying or incubating. In the 20-year period, an increasing proportion of nests were destroyed before the chicks hatched and this change was associated with an increased distortion of the adult sex ratio. Modelling the population growth rate showed that including the additional effect of mowing on female mortality resulted in a 1.7 times faster local population decline. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that the extinction of whinchat populations in the lowlands of central Europe was caused not only by habitat degradation and low productivity, but also by increased man-made female mortality.

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