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Garcia-Heras, M-S., Mougeot, F., Simmons, R. and Arroyo, B. 2017. Regional and temporal variation in diet and provisioning rates suggest weather limits prey availability for an endangered raptor. Ibis, 2017: DOI: 10.1111/ibi.12478


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Regional and temporal variation in diet and provisioning rates suggest weather limits prey availability for an endangered raptor.

Summary / Notes:

Understanding variation in food requirements of wild animals is of central importance in population ecology and conservation, as it helps to identify where and when food may be limiting. Studies on diet variation or prey provisioning rates may give useful insights when direct information on prey availability is lacking. We assess spatial and temporal variation in the diet of an endangered predator, the Black Harrier Circus maurus. This raptor is endemic to southern Africa and specializes on small mammals but also feeds on birds and reptiles as alternative prey. Using data on 1679 prey identified in 953 pellets collected in inland and coastal regions from 2006 to 2015, we show that diet composition changed little throughout the breeding season in the coastal region, whereas there was a marked seasonal decline in the occurrence of small mammal prey in the inland region, with a concomitant increase in alternative prey. The proportion of small mammals in the diet declined with increasing maximum temperature, the latter being highest at the inland region late in the breeding season. Using camera recordings at nests in 2014, we further analysed daily patterns of prey provisioning to nestlings. A marked reduction in small mammal provisioning rates occurred during the middle of the day in the hotter inland region but not in the cooler coastal region. Reduced availability of the primary prey, small mammals, in hotter conditions, through a reduction in activity or overall abundance, could explain these patterns. Finally, we show a positive relationship between winter rainfall and interannual differences in the proportion of small mammals in the diet of Black Harriers breeding in the coastal region, suggesting relationships between diet and prey abundance that are mediated through rainfall. We discuss the need to consider spatial variation in food availability in conservation strategies. Keywords: Black Harrier, Circus maurus, climate-mediated, conservation, food requirements, prey provisioning, seasonal decline, specialist predator.

Year: 2017

Type: Journal Article

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