, Volume 95, Issue 5, pp 391–398 | Cite as

Fear in grasslands: the effect of Eurasian kestrels on skylark abundances

  • Jesús Martínez-Padilla
  • Juan A. Fargallo
Original Paper


Predation has received considerable theoretical and empirical support in population regulation. The effect of predators, however, could be achieved in direct (killing) or indirect effects (such as displacement). In this paper, we explored the relationship between Eurasian kestrels Falco tinnunculus and skylarks Alauda arvensis in Mediterranean grasslands. First, we analysed the presence of skylarks in the kestrel diet over 9 years. We also compared a grassland area of experimentally increased kestrel density and a second grassland as control area to evaluate the direct or indirect effect on skylark abundance. We also considered two different habitats, grazed and ungrazed plots. If skylark abundance decreased as the kestrel breeding season progressed in high-density kestrel area compared with the control area, it would suggest a direct effect (predator hypothesis). If skylark abundance remains constant in both areas of contrasting kestrel density, it would suggest that skylarks avoid kestrels (avoidance hypothesis). We found that skylark abundance decreased in the kestrel area from the beginning of kestrel nest-box installation to recent years. The rate of skylark consumption decreased in a 9-year period as kestrel abundance increased, although the total amount skylark consumption did not show a decreasing trend. In addition, skylarks were more abundant in the kestrel-free area than in the kestrel area. Finally, we found that skylark abundance did not change through the kestrel breeding period in relation to grazing. We suggest that an increased breeding density of kestrels during their breeding period may force the skylarks to breed in other areas, which may explain the decline of their abundance.


Eurasian kestrels Falco tinnunculus Skylarks Alauda arvensis Grasslands Mediterranean area Predator–prey relationships 



This paper was partially funded by SEO-BirdLife by a grant awarded to JMP. J. Moreno, and J. Viñuela supported this study in different ways. S. Redpath, Claire Devereux and two anonymous referees improved greatly an early version of this manuscript. C. Marqués assisted in the field work. The Finat family allowed us to work in their property. J. Martínez-Padilla was awarded a postdoctoral fellowship during writing the manuscript (Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia. Ref. EX-27-04-04).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Aberdeen Centre for Environmental Sustainability (ACES)University of Aberdeen & Macaulay Institute, School of Biological SciencesAberdeenUK
  2. 2.Centre for Ecology and Hydrology-BanchoryHill of BrathensBanchory, AberdeenshireUK
  3. 3.Departamento de Ecología EvolutivaMuseo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, CSICMadridSpain

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