, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 239-257

Finch numbers, owl predation and plant dispersal on Isla Daphne Major, Galápagos

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Summary

Populations of 4 geospizine finches were studied on Isla Daphne Major in April and December 1973. Finches were captured, banded, measured and released in both months, and censused in December. 1640±711 finches were estimated to be present in December, of which probably more than 1000 belonged to Geospiza fortis. G. fortis were 4 times more numerous than G. scandens. The overal density at this time was 27–54/ha. This is the first quantitative estimate of finch population sizes for a whole island in the Galápagos Archipelago. Some G. fuliginosa and magnirostris immigrated between study periods, but overall density remained nearly constant. There was no evidence of immigration of fortis and scandens. Survival rates of the two common species, fortis and scandens, from April to December were estimated, from banded birds, to be 86.9% and 91.3%. Up to 300 finches (fortis and scandens) disappeared between study periods. The amount of predation by owls (Asio flammeus), estimated from an analysis of 49 pellets, could account for more than 50% of the finch losses, but is likely to be less. The estimated loss due to predation was less than 10% of the populations in April.
The discovery of the remains of house mice, Mus musculus, and black rats, Rattus rattus, in pellets indicates that owls hunt on one island (e.g. Santa Cruz or Baltra) and regurgitate on another (Daphne). Fruits of a Euphorb, Chamaesyce amplexicaulis (Hook. f.) Burch, that finches eat were found in two pellets that also contained finch remains. This suggests that seeds or fruits in the throat of a victim at the time of a kill may be transported unharmed inside an owl from one island to another. Indirect support to this suggestion is given by the results of flotation experiments with seeds and fruits of 22 species of plants. Most did not float, and are too heavy to be transported by normal winds. Many do not have hooks or sticky surfaces, and internal transport by birds (including owls) is therefore strongly suggested.