Article: article from journal or magazin.
Wildflower areas within revitalized agricultural matrices boost small mammal populations but not breeding Barn Owls
Journal of Ornithology
Agro-ecosystems have recently experienced dramatic losses of biodiversity due to more intensive production methods. In order to increase species diversity, agri-environment schemes provide subsidies to farmers who devote a fraction of their land to ecological compensation areas (ECA). Several studies have shown that invertebrate biodiversity is actually higher in ECA than in nearby intensively cultivated farmland. It remains poorly understood, however, to what extent ECA also favour vertebrates, such as small mammals and their predators, which would contribute to restore functioning food chains within revitalized agricultural matrices. We studied small mammal populations among eight habitat types - including wildflower areas, a specific ECA in Switzerland - and habitat selection (radiotracking) by the barn owl Tyto alba, one of their principal predators. Our prediction was that habitats with higher abundances of small mammals would be more visited by foraging Barn owls during the period of chicks' provisioning. Small mammal abundance tended to be higher in wildflower areas than in any other habitat type. Barn owls, however, preferred to forage in cereal fields and grassland. They avoided all types of crops other than cereals, as well as wildflower areas, which suggests that they do not select their hunting habitat primarily with respect to prey density. Instead of prey abundance, prey accessibility may play a more crucial role: wildflower areas have a dense vegetation cover, which may impede access to prey for foraging owls. The exploitation of wildflower areas by the owls might be enhanced by creating open foraging corridors within or around wildflower areas. Wildflower areas managed in that way might contribute to restore functioning food chains within agro-ecosystems.
Ecological compensation areas, Agro-ecosystems, Small mammals, Species conservation
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