, Volume 174, Issue 3, pp 1033-1043,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 18 Oct 2013

Heavy rainfall increases nestling mortality of an arctic top predator: experimental evidence and long-term trend in peregrine falcons

Abstract

Although animal population dynamics have often been correlated with fluctuations in precipitation, causal relationships have rarely been demonstrated in wild birds. We combined nest observations with a field experiment to investigate the direct effect of rainfall on survival of peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) nestlings in the Canadian Arctic. We then used historical data to evaluate if recent changes in the precipitation regime could explain the long-term decline of falcon annual productivity. Rainfall directly caused more than one-third of the recorded nestling mortalities. Juveniles were especially affected by heavy rainstorms (≥8 mm/day). Nestlings sheltered from rainfall by a nest box had significantly higher survival rates. We found that the increase in the frequency of heavy rain over the last three decades is likely an important factor explaining the recent decline in falcon nestling survival rates, and hence the decrease in annual breeding productivity of the population. Our study is among the first experimental demonstrations of the direct link between rainfall and survival in wild birds, and clearly indicates that top arctic predators can be significantly impacted by changes in precipitation regime.

Communicated by Markku Orell.