Site-based adaptation reduces the negative effects of weather upon a southern range margin Welsh black grouse Tetrao tetrix population that is vulnerable to climate change

Abstract

Climate change is an increasing threat to global biodiversity. Whilst there is growing evidence about the potential effectiveness of some aspects of climate change adaptation, the role for site-based management to increase the resilience of vulnerable populations to climate change has been little studied. Here, we test whether such management may reduce the negative effects of unfavourable weather upon a southern range margin Welsh black grouse Tetrao tetrix population that is vulnerable to climate change. The Welsh black grouse recovery programme funded a range of interventions that contributed to a 39% population increase over 10 years. One likely mechanism linking black grouse populations to climate change is the sensitivity of chicks to high June rainfall. We modelled the relationship between June rainfall and management interventions which aimed to increase breeding success (habitat management and lethal predator control) to test whether management could increase the resilience of black grouse populations to such unfavourable weather. Importantly, we found that the negative effect of June rainfall upon productivity was eliminated at sites where predator control occurred, and that productivity was maximised when predator and habitat management were combined. Active management therefore reduced the negative effects of June rainfall upon this vulnerable southern range margin black grouse population, although further work is required to quantify any limits to the success of such management. Active management should be considered as a tool for climate change adaptation in other vulnerable populations, particularly where there is limited potential for species to undergo climate-driven range changes.

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Acknowledgements

The Welsh Recovery Programme was funded by the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund, a Welsh Government Rural Development grant, the Countryside Council for Wales Species Challenge fund and an EU Objective 1 grant with support from Forestry Commission Wales. We are grateful to Jim Symes, David Ogilvy, Gordon Bowker, Daniel Brooks, Mark Hopkins, Chris Mellenchip, Keith Offord and John Lawton-Roberts for assistance with data collection. We are grateful to David Baines (GWCT) for the provision of data from one of the six key areas. Mark Bolton and Will Peach provided useful statistical advice, whilst Jeremy Wilson and Arjun Amar commented on an earlier draft of the manuscript.

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This analysis was primarily funded by the RSPB.

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Correspondence to James W. Pearce-Higgins.

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Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Lindley, P.J., Johnstone, I.G. et al. Site-based adaptation reduces the negative effects of weather upon a southern range margin Welsh black grouse Tetrao tetrix population that is vulnerable to climate change. Climatic Change 153, 253–265 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-019-02372-2

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