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Poster abstracts from Ecosystem Services: do we need birds?

ECOSYSTEM SERVICES: DO WE NEED BIRDS
BOU 2012 ANNUAL CONFERENCE
UNIVERSITY OF LEICESTER | 3 – 5 APRIL 2012

 

Farmland birds belong to the farmers' world

Irina Herzon

Department of Agricultural Sciences, P.O. Box 27 (Latakartanonkaari 5) FIN-00014 University of Helsinki, Finland

Based on the results from two studies, we discuss the issue of farmland birds being a key part of cultural services in agroecosystems. The first study was a sociological interview-based research in Finland and Estonia. It was run in 2003-2004 in order to explore farmers' interest in and knowledge of farmland wildlife, their understanding of the concept of biodiversity, awareness of the potential causes behind declines of farmland birds, and willingness to undertake practices favouring farmland wildlife. The results confirmed that most farmers in both countries viewed biodiversity from a narrow perspective, frequently excluding weed and pest species from it. To the question 'The disappearance of which wild species from your farm would you regard as a personal loss?! Finnish farmers expressed considerably higher concern about the decline in farmland species than Estonian counterparts. When prompted to name species, 64 % of the farmers named birds, while 16 % each named plants and mammals, and 7 % invertebrates. The bird species named by Finnish farmers mostly included those nationally declining or regionally lost. In Estonia, most farmland species are common and abundant. It is plausible that farmers found it difficult to perceive declines as possible. The expressed interest in wildlife generally related to farmers' willingness to undertake wildlife-friendly measures. However, in return farmers expected some level of support from the society. This expectation was especially common among Finnish farmers with longer experience of receiving subsidies as compared to Estonian ones, for whom many activities remain culturally imbedded.

The second study in Finland was part of research on a novel agri-environment scheme of environmental fallows. In 2009, 72 farmers were encouraged to provide their own observations of wildlife species on fallow fields2. Most of them (52) named species of birds typical of fallows such as Vanellus vanellus, Numenius arquata, Perdix perdix, Alauda arvensis, and Crex crex. Many commented on an increased abundance of these as a part of a positive experience with fallows.

It is plausible that public support for nature management in farmland might work best if explicitly targeted at species in agroecosystems that form part of cultural ecosystem services as experienced and valued by farmers. It might be important to take into account that farmers' concern for species seem to originate in a personal experience of declines in conspicuous species. These culturally imbedded species could be regarded as cultural flagship species. An European-wise research across the gradients of bird decline rates and farming systems might lay a foundation for a suit of such species.

 

 

The ploughed field is the most important breeding habitat for the Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus in the Czech Republic

Vojt─øch Kubelka┬╣, V├íclav Z├íme─ìník┬▓ & Miroslav Ełíus łá├ílek┬│

┬╣ Department of Ecology, Faculty of Science, Charles University in Prague, Vinicna 7, 128 44, Prague, Czech Republic

┬▓ Czech Society for Ornithology, Na Belidle 252/34, Prague, Czech Republic

┬│ Department of Ecology, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Czech University of Life Sciences, Kamycka 129, Prague, Czech Republic

The Northern Lapwing is a significantly declining wader in most of European countries. In the Czech Republic, similar to other areas, wet meadows were dried and this breeding habitat of Lapwings was mostly converted to arable land during the 20th century. This resulted in a shift in the breeding population to arable land, where more than two thirds now nest. Loss of wet meadows together with the intensification of agriculture is considered to be the major cause of the Lapwings' decline. Their breeding abundance decreased by 85% between 1982 and 2000 but since then the number has remained at approximately the same level. Between 2001 and 2003, the abundance varied from 7 000 to 10 000 pairs in the country. The concentrations of Lapwings at particular breeding sites dropped significantly in favour of the spread of small nesting groups or single pairs while the colonies consisting of 10 or more nests become rare.

A nationwide monitoring of Northern Lapwing in the Czech Republic took place in 2008 and data from 151 breeding sites was obtained. The results confirm that the largest breeding associations of Lapwings occur in ploughed fields as well as in the subsequent sown fields created here after spring works (harrowing and sowing) with 9.59+(SE)1.56 adults per one locality. In contrast, mean numbers of breeding lapwings per one breeding ground are significantly lower in all remaining habitats [5.79+(SE)0.63]. We also, indirectly measured nesting success (proportion of sites with mobbing adults or observed chicks) this was found to be the highest at ploughed fields compared with other habitats (winter wheat, spring cereal, meadows). Considering the historical status of breeding sites, the indirectly measured nesting success of Lapwings was greatest at annually occupied sites while the lowest at occasionally occupied sites. The presence of water (including temporary pools) at a breeding site significantly increased the indirect nesting success rate. The preference of Lapwings to nest in ploughed fields was previously confirmed in several other local studies.

The results of our monitoring clearly indicates the importance of ploughed fields for breeding Lapwings in the Czech Republic. On the other hand, the nests situated in ploughed fields are threatened as up to 100% of the clutches may be locally destroyed during spring field works. Therefore, we recommend a focus on a long-term agri-environmental prescription on arable land in order to support Northern Lapwing breeding in ploughed fields. We propose to keep the ploughed fields undisturbed until the end of May and to apply this approach in particular at waterlogged and regularly occupied breeding grounds.

 

 

Effect of vegetation structure on wader nest predation and the distribution of alternative small mammal prey

Rebecca A. Laidlaw┬╣, Jennifer Smart┬▓ & Jennifer A. Gill1

┬╣ School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich Research Park, Norwich, NR4 7TJ, UK

┬▓ Royal Society of the Protection of Birds, The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire, SG19 2DL, UK

Within lowland wet grasslands, habitat manipulation is one of the key management tools available for conserving breeding wader populations. While a lot of effort has been concentrated on creating the sward structures preferred by breeding waders, the possible ramifications on other aspects of the food web have been largely overlooked. For example, species such as lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) prefer to nest on short swards, and habitat management for these species often involves the creation of large areas of short swards. However, their mammalian nest predators are typically generalist feeders that include small mammals in their diet, and small mammals prefer a vegetation structure which is both tall and dense. Increasing the abundance of small mammals within these landscapes may therefore influence the level of predation experienced by wading birds.

Habitat manipulations to increase the area of tall sward could alter levels of small mammal abundance in the landscape, and the potential impacts of such management on the dynamics between wader and predator species requires further investigation. In order to do this, a comparison of levels of small mammal activity was carried out across eight RSPB wet grassland reserves in England that differed in the connectivity and shape of tall swards present. In addition, artificial nests were used to explore rates of nest predation in relation to vegetation structure, in order to explore the potential impact of increased amounts of taller vegetation on nest survival.

Winner of the ‘best student’ poster at the conference

 

Evaluation of a general ecosystem state indicator based on farmland birds

G. G. Nagy┬╣ & B. Cz├║cz┬▓

┬╣ Corvinus University of Budapest, Faculty of Landscape Architecture, Department of Landscape Planning and Regional Development, Hungary

┬▓ Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Institute of Ecology and Botany, Hungary

Different qualitative and quantitative indicators can be used to trace the state of ecosystems in a landscape. Most of these 'biodiversity indicators! are developed for rural landscapes, capturing particular aspect of landscape. Fine resolution indicators of general ecological status are particularly useful in a broad variety of local and regional policy contexts. In this study, we examine such a promising indicator, the vegetation-based natural capital index (NCI) of Hungary, with the help of bird data.

NCI gives a percentage estimation of the proportion of the original ecosystems that have persisted in a particular region. In this study, we evaluate vegetation-based NCI with respect to farmland bird assemblages in the case of three similar lowland regions in Hungary. The survey of the bird population was carried out between 15 April and 10 June 2011 by modified Danish point counting system. The sample areas were the geographical micro-regions Csepeli-sík, Hortob├így and Nagyberek, which are landscapes dominated by agricultural lands and grasslands. Our hypothesis was that higher NCI values correspond to higher bird diversity and abundance values, which also imply a higher supply of regulating and supporting ecosystem services.

We found that bird assemblages and NCI gave a similar picture about the general ecological status of the studied landscapes, even though the relationship between NCI and the characteristics of the bird assemblages were not always strictly linear. While the plant-evaluation assesses the Csepeli-sík roughly halfway between the two other landscapes, the bird-evaluation sets it much closer to Hortob├így which has higher points than Nagyberek, presumably because of its more mosaic landscape structure. The differences are supposed to lie in the way birds and plants observe and inhabit the landscape. Nevertheless, a detailed understanding of the characteristics of these indicators would demand further studies.

 

 

Arthropod prey depletion around wild bird feeders: do garden birds earn their keep?

Melanie E. Orros & Mark D. E. Fellowes

School of Biological Sciences, Philip Lyle Building, University of Reading, Reading RG6 6AS, UK

Providing supplementary food for wild birds is a globally popular past-time; almost half of households in many developed countries participate and billions of US dollars are spent annually. Although the direct influence of this additional resource on bird survivorship and fecundity has been studied, there is little understanding of the wider ecological consequences of this massive perturbation to (what are often) urban ecosystems. The possible indirect effects on non-avian species in particular have received little research attention. Furthermore, whereas the great majority of wild bird feeding takes place in private domestic gardens, most research on the topic has been carried out in woodlands and scientific field stations. We therefore investigated the possible effects of wild bird feeding on the size and survivorship of experimental colonies of a widespread arthropod, the pea aphid [Acyrthosiphon pisum (Harris); Hemiptera: Aphididae], in suburban gardens of volunteers in Reading, a large town in southern England. The pea aphid is a common prey species of many small passerine birds in temperate regions and is also generally regarded as a pest by gardeners. We found significantly fewer aphids and shorter colony survival times in colonies exposed to avian predation compared to protected controls in gardens with a bird feeder but no such differences between exposed and protected colonies in gardens that did not feed birds. Our work therefore suggests that supplementary feeding of wild birds in gardens may indirectly influence local population sizes and survivorship of their arthropod prey and highlights the need for further research into the potential effects on other species.

 

 

Variation in Lapwing Vanellus vanellus productivity across habitats and management systems in Western Europe

Danielle Peruffo┬╣, Jennifer Smart┬▓, James Pearce-Higgins┬│ & Jennifer Gill┬╣

┬╣ School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich, Norfolk NR4 7TJ, UK

┬▓ Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire, SG19 2DL, UK

┬│ British Trust for Ornithology, BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk IP24 2PU, UK

The number of breeding Lapwings in England and Wales has halved since the late 1980s, with similar declines throughout Western Europe. In general, declines in productivity are thought to be a major driver of these losses but the specifics of why are not known. Efforts to improve Lapwing breeding success have included targeted management on nature reserves and agri-environment initiatives in upland and lowland, pastoral and arable habitats. However, the effectiveness of these different approaches and their capacity to impact lapwing populations is unclear. To address this issue, an extensive review of published and grey literature is being undertaken from which estimates of population size, nesting success, chick survival and productivity have been compiled for sites across Europe since 1970. Previous studies have suggested that lapwing productivity of ~0.6-0.8 fledglings/pair is required to maintain a stable population, and our preliminary analyses suggest that such values can be achieved on mixed farmland and lowland wet grassland, but rarely on arable and dry pasture. However, productivity can vary greatly even within lowland wet grassland and mixed farmland, and high values are typically only achieved on nature reserves, suggesting that targeted management is likely to be necessary to maintain stable populations.

 

 

Functional diversity of bird communities: a large-scale study of the Afrotoropics

Amy V.L. Romans┬╣, Stuart H. M. Butchart┬▓, Paul F. Donald┬│ & Richard G. Davies┬╣

┬╣ Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Conservation, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich Research Park, Norwich, Norfolk, NR4 7TJ, UK

┬▓ BirdLife International, Wellbrook Court, Girton Road, Cambridge, CB3 0NA, UK

┬│ Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire, SG19 2DL, UK

Birds provide many ecosystem services including seed dispersal, pollination and predation. The efficacy of provision depends on the diversity of communities. Biodiversity is often reported as species diversity, which can be partitioned into species richness (number of species) and species evenness (relative abundance). A limitation of this approach is that species are treated as equivalent to one another and their identities and roles are not acknowledged. For example, seed dispersal could be poor in a species rich ecosystem if few granivores or frugivores are present. An alternative measure, functional diversity (FD) measures the value and range of traits exhibited by species in a community, thus providing the link between biodiversity and ecosystem-level processes.

In order to measure FD, species are described in terms of relevant traits (e.g. body mass, diet, etc.) and plotted in multi-dimensional trait space. Species are then clustered and arranged on a functional dendrogram. This is analogous to a phylogenetic cladogram, but represents functional relationships; species with more similar traits are closer to together on the dendrogram. The length of branches required to connect species in a given community is a measure of FD. A community of species with dissimilar traits has its members spread across the dendrogram and therefore the sum of connecting branches is large. Like species diversity, FD can also be divided into richness and evenness. Functional richness is the volume of trait space occupied by the community and evenness describes the distribution of species within that space; where species are unevenly clustered in trait space the assemblage has low evenness since these species share similar traits.

In this study, a macro-ecological analysis of avian assemblages at a one-degree scale in the Afrotropics is used to explore patterns on a continental scale. Observed FD (FDobs) is compared with the value expected with random assembly of communities (FDexp) by computing null models. The standardised effect size (SES) is calculated using:

A negative value indicates that the grid cell has lower FD than expected by chance and a positive value denotes those grid cells with higher than expected FD.

Of the 2232 assemblages measured, 66.8% have lower than expected FD. Regions of higher than expected FD include southern Africa, the forest crescent around Lake Victoria, Ethiopia and parts of the Congo basin. Areas with low functional richness have high functional evenness; there is a significant negative correlation. These aspects show a latitudinal gradient; areas closer to the equator tend to have higher functional richness and lower functional evenness. Topography also significantly affects functional diversity; areas with a higher range of elevations tend to have higher functional richness and lower functional evenness.

The lower than expected values of FD may indicate that assemblages are subject to environmental filtering; species are more similar than expected by chance because they share traits that make them adapted to their environment. We are now investigating the underlying climatic drivers that vary with latitude and topography to identify the factors influencing FD and causing some assemblages to have higher than expected FD.

 

 

Understanding trade-offs between food production and bird conservation on two commercial farms

Chris Stoate┬╣, Richard B. Bradbury┬▓ and Tony J. Morris┬▓

┬╣ Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, Allerton Project, Loddington, Leics LE7 9XE, UK

┬▓ Conservation Science Department, RSPB, The Lodge, Sandy, Beds SG19 2DL, UK

Being associated with anthropogenic landscapes, farmland birds have a cultural value to society. However, bird abundance is negatively affected by intensity of food production, with diverse, low external input farming systems supporting highest bird numbers and species richness.

Food production is rising up the political agenda in response to population growth, increasing consumption and resource depletion. We use two case studies (the GWCT 'Allerton Project' farm at Loddington, Leicestershire, and the RSPB's 'Hope Farm' in Cambridgeshire) to examine to what extent bird conservation can be achieved without compromising food production, while also maintaining or contributing to other ecosystem services. The Allerton Project farm combines crop and livestock production in a diverse landscape of undulating topography with woods, hedges, ponds and other habitat. Game management for shooting has influenced the management of the farm. Hope Farm is in a simpler arable-dominated landscape, with some horse and sheep-grazed permanent grass paddocks and few trees.

Habitat management was introduced at both farms in relatively unproductive areas of fields, to minimise impacts on crop production, and took the form of buffer strips, beetle banks, unharvested crop or conservation headlands, wild bird seed mixtures and nectar flower mixtures. Hedge cutting frequency was reduced on both farms. At Loddington, ponds and woods were created, some predators were controlled (1993-2001), and grain was provided in winter (1993-2006). At Hope Farm, skylark plots and within-ditch sediment detention ponds were created and spring beans introduced into the crop rotation.

Bird numbers doubled at Loddington between 1992 and 2001, after which they declined in response to the dismantling of the game management system for research purposes. Game management is currently being restored. Wild pheasant numbers increased at Loddington and five shoots were held each year until 2001. At Hope Farm, bird numbers increased by 200% between 2000 and 2010, without game management. There were considerable differences between species and between farms in changes in bird numbers. Although the arable area was reduced, crop yields on the remaining land were maintained on both farms.

We explore the impact of conservation measures on crop production at the farm scale, using crop yield data to estimate yield loss associated with conservation management. We discuss the different responses in bird numbers at the two farms and the implications for setting of targets for withdrawing land from production for wildlife conservation, and other ecosystem services. We also discuss the influence of game management on bird conservation.

 

 

What do birds want? Multi-scale analysis of visitation rates to urban trees

Edward M. Waite ┬╣ (PhD candidate), Kath Dickinson 1, Gerry Closs ┬▓ & Yolanda Van Heezik ┬▓

┬╣ University of Otago, Botany Department, New Zealand

┬▓ University of Otago, Zoology Department, New Zealand

The growth of cities is a continuing trend, with dramatic implications for biodiversity. As the area and intensity of urbanisation increases, sustaining urban biodiversity has been shown to have measurable benefits for nature conservation, as areas of high conservation value and threatened species are increasingly being found in towns and cites. The maintenance of urban biodiversity has also been shown to provide measurable benefits to human individual and community health and wellbeing.

Urban tree populations are often low in diversity, with a high proportion of exotic species. While they are a prominent part of town planning, their role as a part of the urban ecological landscape remains poorly understood. As such, they offer a novel avenue of research, and a greater knowledge of how to best manage urban tree plantings within a wider ecological landscape framework has the potential to provide benefits to urban avian communities.

As part of a larger urban tree research project, we collected observational data documenting bird visitation rates to 40 individual trees in the city of Dunedin, New Zealand, over 12 months. A number of landscape characteristics on multiple spatial scales were then used to place these trees within a larger landscape context. A model averaging approach was used to assess the relative importance of these variables in predicting the bird species richness observed in each tree, as well as the visitation rates of several individual bird species and functional/taxonomic guilds.

When modelled without wider landscape variables, tree species and size were found to be significant factors in determining the observed bird species richness. However when these wider landscape features were incorporated into the analyses, tree species and size were among the lower ranked predictors. For total bird species richness, the distance to the nearest forest patch, and the maximum building height and area of mown grass in the vicinity (30m radius) of the trees were the most important predictor variables. For native bird species richness, however, the area of low vegetation (<2m tall) and the number of tall tree crowns (>5m tall) in the vicinity of the trees, in addition to the distance to the nearest patch were the highest ranked predictors.

The different bird species and guilds showed highly individualised responses in their visitation rates. For example, native nectivores showed the strongest response to the area of low vegetation surrounding the trees, and distance to the nearest patch. For introduced Dunnocks, on the other hand, the surrounding building footprint clearly stood out as the highest rated predictor variable. Larger scale landscape classifications from previous mapping projects were not found to be important for most bird species.

Our results suggest that while the choices of tree species can be important for encouraging urban bird communities, the local context in which they are situated can have a major impact on their biodiversity value. The management of urban trees should focus on providing a wider diversity of trees, and also consider the context in which they are situated to maximise the potential benefits to urban biodiversity.

 

 

Investigating effects of species extinction and elevated Nitrogen deposition on trophic cascades in a terrestrial system: a novel network approach

Rose Wilcox, Darren Evans, Jane Bunting & Graham Scott

University of Hull, UK

Increased atmospheric nitrogen (N) is one of the major drivers of environmental change with levels doubling over the last century due to increased use in fossil fuels and fertilisers. Many studies have investigated the effects of this N increase on plants but none have assessed the effects on the different species embedded in ecological networks. This network approach is essential to understanding the impacts of environmental change as all species are connected to at least one other species by direct or indirect pathways, for examples as predator and prey. Therefore, any perturbation affecting one species may have cascading effects on other trophic levels. To date, studies have investigated the effects of predators on plant producers via antagonist (i.e. herbivore) or mutualist (e.g. pollinator) pathways but none have included both. My research will investigate the effects of species extinctions on plants via the antagonist and mutualist pathways simultaneously (including the indirect effects of birds) whilst going one step further to investigate the effects on increased N deposition.

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