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Role of prey and intraspecific density dependence on the population growth of an avian top predator

AuthorsFernández-de-Simón, Javier; Díaz-Ruiz, Francisco ; Tortosa, Francisco S.; Villafuerte, Rafael ; Ferreras, Pablo
KeywordsMediterranean Iberia
Oryctolagus cuniculus
Predator–prey relationships
Abundance stability
Bubo bubo
Issue Date2014
CitationActa Oecologica 60: 1-6 (2014)
AbstractExploring predator-prey systems in diverse ecosystems increases our knowledge about ecological processes. Predator population growth may be positive when conspecific density is low but predators also need areas with prey availability, associated with competition, which increases the risk of suffering losses but stabilises populations. We studied relationships between European rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus (prey) and adult eagle owls Bubo bubo (predators) in south-western Europe. We assessed models explaining the predator population growth and stability. We estimated the abundance of rabbits and adult eagle owls during three years in eight localities of central-southern Spain. We explored models including rabbit and adult eagle owl abundance, accounting for yearly variations and including the locality as a random variable. We found that population growth of adult eagle owls was positive in situations with low conspecific abundance and tended to be negative but approaching equilibrium in situations of higher conspecific abundance. Population growth was also positively related to previous summer rabbit density when taking into account eagle owl conspecific abundance, possibly indicating that rabbits may support recruitment. Furthermore, abundance stability of adult eagle owls was positively related to previous winter-spring rabbit density, which could suggest predator population stabilisation through quick territory occupation in high-quality areas. These results exemplify the trade-off between prey availability and abundance of adult predators related to population growth and abundance stability in the eagle owl-rabbit system in south-western Europe. Despite rabbits have greatly declined during the last decades and eagle owls locally specialise on them, eagle owls currently have a favourable conservation status. As eagle owls are the only nocturnal raptor with such dependence on rabbits, this could point out that predators may overcome prey decreases in areas with favourable climate and prey in the absence of superior competitors with similar foraging mode.
Publisher version (URL)https://doi.org/10.1016/j.actao.2014.06.006
Identifiersdoi: 10.1016/j.actao.2014.06.006
issn: 1146-609X
e-issn: 1873-6238
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(IREC) Artículos
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