Numerical responses of an avian predator to prey fluctuations in a temperate latitude: breeders vs. entire population
Distinct numerical responses of predators to fluctuations in the abundance of their prey are often observed in northern regions but occur more rarely in temperate latitudes. This statement is, however, mostly based on observations of breeding populations, while in some predators, for example in raptors, numerous non-breeding floaters can occur. I estimated the breeding density and reproductive performance (nest survey) as well as the density of entire population (transects with distance sampling) of the common buzzard Buteo buteo in western Poland (52°N) in the years 2005–2014 to test the hypotheses that in temperate latitudes: (1) the breeding population of these birds does not show any numerical response, understood as annual changes in their abundance; (2) its reproductive success, however, changes with the abundance of main prey, the common vole Microtus arvalis; and (3) hence the entire buzzard population (including potential immature floaters) present in a given area during the nesting period responds numerically with some time delay. The reproductive success of buzzards was positively correlated with their prey abundance. Contrary to my predictions, however, the breeding population of buzzards showed a slight numerical response with a 3-year lag and the entire population tracked vole fluctuations without any time delay. The immediate numerical response of the entire buzzard population was probably caused by large-scale movements of floaters. Such rapid numerical responses of some predators may contribute to the relative stability of prey populations in temperate latitudes compared to northern regions.
KeywordsCommon buzzard Common vole Non-breeding floaters Poland Population dynamics
I am grateful to my colleagues from the Research Station PHA in Czempiń for their help in data collection, and to Javier Balbontín, Robert Kamieniarz, Hannu Pietiäinen and anonymous reviewer for their valuable comments to the manuscript. I also thank Ian Hatcher for language improvements.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.
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