Quantifying density dependence in a bird population using human disturbance

Mallord, John W., Dolman, Paul M. ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-9340-2791, Brown, Andy and Sutherland, William J. (2007) Quantifying density dependence in a bird population using human disturbance. Oecologia, 153. pp. 49-56.

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Although density dependence has long been recognised as vital to population regulation, there have been relatively few studies demonstrating it spatially in wildlife populations, often due to the confounding effects of variation in habitat quality. We report on a study of woodlarks Lullula arborea, a species of European conservation concern, breeding on lowland heath in Dorset, England. We take the novel approach of utilising the birds’ response to human disturbance, which resulted in much of the variation in density but had no direct impact on demographic rates. Within years, in sites with greater density there were smaller mean chick masses, lower post-fledging survival, and higher rates of nestling mortality attributed to starvation. The effects on clutch size and fledging success were confounded by the area of grassland within a site. There was no effect on brood size. Density dependence also operated within sites between years: as density increased there were reductions in mean chick mass and post-fledging survival, while nestling mortality attributed to starvation increased. Density-dependent effects on clutch size were only weakly regulatory, whereas density-dependent starvation and post-fledging mortality rates contributed strongly to differences in overall breeding output. Heavier chicks (when 7 days old) were significantly more likely to fledge and less likely to starve. Broods with heavier chicks were more likely to supply recruits to the breeding population. Nestling mass was not a factor in survival in the immediate post-fledging period, suggesting that density-dependent processes act independently on this stage. We conclude that the number of birds per hectare of suitable habitat is a valid means of expressing density, and that habitat acts as a surrogate for food abundance through which density dependence operates on the woodlark population.

Item Type: Article
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Science > School of Environmental Sciences
UEA Research Groups: Faculty of Science > Research Centres > Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Conservation
Faculty of Science > Research Groups > Environmental Biology
Faculty of Science > Research Groups > Resources, Sustainability and Governance (former - to 2018)
Depositing User: Rosie Cullington
Date Deposited: 28 Feb 2011 13:25
Last Modified: 01 Feb 2023 15:30
URI: https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/id/eprint/25290
DOI: 10.1007/s00442-007-0716-0

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