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Predation by sparrowhawks decreases with increased breeding density in a songbird, the great tit


Predators may regulate prey populations if predation rate increases with prey density. Alternatively, if space-limited (e.g. territorial) predators become ‘satiated’ when prey exceed a certain density, increased prey abundance may lead to reduced predation rate. These alternatives have been difficult to test experimentally for mobile prey in the wild. We present such a test, manipulating the density of great tits (Parus major) by adding nest boxes in territories of sparrowhawks (Accipiter nisus). Predation rate was measured for young tits after they left the nests. Although the great tit is an important prey, there was no evidence for regulation during the breeding season: the rate of hawk predation declined with increasing density of tits. This result was not confounded by changes in breeding density of alternative prey species (other songbirds). Hawk predation can therefore favour dense breeding in a territorial (solitary) bird, and conspecific attraction and aggregation reported in several territorial species may partly result from predation pressure. This result also has potential implications for conservation work.

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We thank Martin Bergström, Jan Bergqvist, Anders Enemar, Peter Post and especially Jan Olsson for valuable help in the field, C. Askenmo, T. Bohlin, E. Korpimäki, I. Krams, I. Newton, P. Post, V. Selås, A.R.E. Sinclair and anonymous referees for comments and suggestions on the manuscript, and Dr P. Johannesson and Dr K. Wiklander (Department of Mathematical Statistics, Göteborg University) for confirming our statistical methods. The study was funded mainly by grants from the Swedish Research Council (NFR/VR) to F.G. and conducted in accordance with national laws for scientific research, including permit for ringing of birds issued by the Natural History Museum, Stockholm. We wish to thank the great tits, Irma Johansson, the land owners and Västkuststiftelsen for cooperation and help during our study.

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Correspondence to Frank Götmark.

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Götmark, F., Andersson, M. Predation by sparrowhawks decreases with increased breeding density in a songbird, the great tit. Oecologia 142, 177–183 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-004-1715-z

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  • Conservation
  • Density dependence
  • Field experiment
  • Fledgling prey
  • Predator satiation