Increased mammalian predators and climate change predict declines in breeding success and density of Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus, an old stand specialist, in fragmented Scottish forests

Author Baines, D., Aebischer, N.J., & MacLeod, A.
Citation Baines, D., Aebischer, N.J., & MacLeod, A. (2016). Increased mammalian predators and climate change predict declines in breeding success and density of Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus, an old stand specialist, in fragmented Scottish forests. Biodiversity and Conservation, 25: 2171-2186.

Abstract

Low breeding success has been associated with declines in population and range of the re-introduced Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus in Scotland. Annual breeding success from 26 Scottish forests surveyed between 1991 and 2009 averaged only 0.6 chicks per female, the lowest rate recorded in 16 previous studies. Reduced breeding success was due to proportionally fewer females rearing chicks rather than a reduction in brood size. Birds bred less well in Perthshire at the southern edge of the range, where declines in indices of female and male density were highest. Only at the core of the range (Strathspey), where birds bred better, were female densities stable. Two weather variables, April temperature in the pre-breeding period (APRTEMP), and temperature at chick hatch in June (HATCHTEMP), increased over the study period. Indices of Pine Marten Martes martes increased 3.9-fold since 1995, and those of Red Fox Vulpes vulpes by 2.2-fold, whereas those of Carrion Crow Corvus corone, raptors and forest floor vegetation showed no change. Neither forest type nor forest ground vegetation appeared to influence breeding success. Instead, females reared more chicks in years when hatch time in June was drier, and in forests with lower marten and crow indices. In addition, more females reared broods in years when Aprils were cooler. Brood size was unaffected by any of the measured variables. Densities of adult birds were lower in forests with higher fox indices. Increased predation of clutches and chicks by martens and crows within these small, fragmented forests, as well as changes in climate, may explain reductions in breeding success and hence contribute to continued declines. Successful conservation of Capercaillie in remaining Strathspey strongholds may require better predator management, including a licensed removal of martens to test the hypotheses that martens contribute to reduced breeding success. This short-medium term approach will inform longer-term predator management policies and complement aspirations to increase the area and connectivity of forest habitat to benefit Capercaillie in-part through mitigating against any impact of increasing forest-edge predators.

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