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Revisiting an old question: Which predators eat eggs of ground-nesting birds in farmland landscapes?

Abstract : Nest predation is a major cause of reproductive failure in birds, but predator identity often remains unknown. Additionally, although corvids are considered major nest predators in farmland landscapes, whether breeders or floaters are involved remains contentious. In this study, we aimed to identify nest predators using artificial nests, and test whether territorial or non-breeders carrion crow (Corvus corone) and Eurasian magpie (Pica pica) were most likely involved. We set up an experiment with artificial ground nests (n = 1429) in farmland landscapes of western France, and assessed how different combinations of egg size and egg material (small plasticine egg, large plasticine egg, quail and natural hen eggs) might influence predation rates and predator species involved. Nest predators were identified using remotely triggered cameras and marks left in plasticine eggs. Corvids were by far the predators most involved (almost 80% of all predation events), independent of egg type. Carrion crows alone were involved in 60% of cases. Probability of predation increased with egg size, and predation rate was higher for natural than for artificial eggs, suggesting that, in addition to egg size, predators might perceive plasticine and natural eggs differently. Predation rates of artificial nests by corvids were related significantly to corvid abundance, and far more to breeder than floater abundances, for both carrion crows and magpies. This study emphasizes the importance of identifying predators at species level, and considering their social status when assessing corvid abundance impact on prey population dynamics. Combining camera traps and plasticine eggs can achieve this objective. Given the high predation rate by carrion crows, a better understanding of landscape-mediated changes in predator diet seems mandatory to design mitigation schemes able to confront ecological challenges raised by generalist predators.
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Contributor : Martine Lacalle <>
Submitted on : Thursday, July 23, 2020 - 2:42:13 PM
Last modification on : Wednesday, October 14, 2020 - 4:16:38 AM



Carolina Bravo, Olivier Pays, Mathieu Sarasa, Vincent Bretagnolle. Revisiting an old question: Which predators eat eggs of ground-nesting birds in farmland landscapes?. Science of the Total Environment, Elsevier, 2020, 744, pp.140895. ⟨10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.140895⟩. ⟨hal-02905491⟩



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