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Crop vegetation structure is more important than crop type in determining where Lesser Kestrels forage


We studied foraging habitat selection by Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni throughout the breeding period in south-west Spain by means of transects on which foraging observations were recorded. We focused on the effects of habitat and crop type, but also on the effect of vegetation structure and the presence of agricultural activities in the field on Lesser Kestrel use. We considered both the accumulated use of the foraging area during the breeding season and the instantaneous foraging habitat selection by kestrels. Foraging habitat selection was highly dynamic following crop development and agricultural activities. Almost all major arable crop types showed positive selection during some part of the breeding cycle. Accumulated use by kestrels demonstrated positive associations with wheat and cotton fields and negative selection of permanent habitat types, such as forested areas, woody crops and built-up areas that have no prey or are not used by the species due to unfavourable structure. Vegetation structure appears to play a major role in instantaneous foraging selection. Lesser Kestrels select fields with short vegetation and intermediate cover. They also forage on field margins and where agricultural activities such as ploughing or harvesting that facilitate access to prey are being conducted. Our results help to clarify apparent controversies among previous studies on the subject, highlighting the importance of the heterogeneity of agricultural landscapes around colonies (crops at different growth stages which provide variable vegetation height and cover during the breeding cycle) and the effect that agricultural activities have on facilitating access to prey. Beyond the species-specific approach, our work encourages further studies on habitat selection by farmland birds to account not only for human-based categorisation of habitats (e.g. crop type) but also on objective measures such as vegetation height and cover that influence access to prey and better reflect the high dynamism of agricultural landscapes.


Se estudió la selección del hábitat de caza del cernícalo primilla Falco naumanni a lo largo del ciclo reproductivo en el suroeste de España mediante transectos en los que se registró el comportamiento de los individuos observados. Se evaluó el efecto de los usos del suelo, tipo de cultivo, estructura de la vegetación y presencia de actividades agrícolas en el uso acumulado y la selección instantánea del hábitat de caza de los cernícalos. La selección del hábitat de caza demostró ser muy dinámica en función del desarrollo de los cultivos y las actividades agrícolas. Casi todos los cultivos herbáceos mostraron una selección positiva por parte de los cernícalos en algún momento del ciclo reproductivo. El uso acumulado mostró relaciones positivas con el trigo y el algodón y una selección negativa de hábitats o cultivos permanentes que o bien son pobres en presas o son rechazados por la especie por su estructura, como las áreas forestales, los cultivos leñosos o las zonas urbanas. La estructura de la vegetación parece que juega un papel preponderante en la selección instantánea del hábitat de caza. Los cernícalos seleccionaron áreas con vegetación baja y con cobertura intermedia. También cazaron sobre lindes y allí donde se estaban llevando a cabo actividades agrícolas, como el arado o el cosechado, que facilitan el acceso a las presas. Nuestros resultados contribuyen a esclarecer las aparentes controversias entre estudios previos, subrayando la importancia de la heterogeneidad del paisaje agrícola alrededor de las colonias (cultivos en diferentes estados de crecimiento que ofrecen variabilidad en la altura de la vegetación y cobertura a lo largo de todo el ciclo reproductivo) así como el efecto de las actividades agrícolas que podrían estar facilitando el acceso a las presas por parte de los cernícalos. Más allá de la aproximación específica, nuestro trabajo incentiva la utilización de variables objetivas como la altura y la cobertura de la vegetación –en lugar de clasificaciones de interés humano como el tipo de cultivo– que reflejan mejor la disponibilidad de presas y el gran dinamismo estructural de los paisajes agrícolas.

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Bird Conservation International
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