, Volume 149, Issue 1, pp 44–51 | Cite as

Demographic effects of extreme winter weather in the barn owl

  • Res AltweggEmail author
  • Alexandre Roulin
  • Matthias Kestenholz
  • Lukas Jenni
Population Ecology


Extreme weather events can lead to immediate catastrophic mortality. Due to their rare occurrence, however, the long-term impacts of such events for ecological processes are unclear. We examined the effect of extreme winters on barn owl (Tyto alba) survival and reproduction in Switzerland over a 68-year period (∼20 generations). This long-term data set allowed us to compare events that occurred only once in several decades to more frequent events. Winter harshness explained 17 and 49% of the variance in juvenile and adult survival, respectively, and the two harshest winters were associated with major population crashes caused by simultaneous low juvenile and adult survival. These two winters increased the correlation between juvenile and adult survival from 0.63 to 0.69. Overall, survival decreased non-linearly with increasing winter harshness in adults, and linearly in juveniles. In contrast, brood size was not related to the harshness of the preceding winter. Our results thus reveal complex interactions between climate and demography. The relationship between weather and survival observed during regular years is likely to underestimate the importance of climate variation for population dynamics.


Catastrophes Climate change Climate variability Matrix population model Population dynamics 



We thank Elisabeth Wiprächtiger for help with data organisation, the numerous people who have ringed barn owls over the years, and David R. Anderson, Bradley R. Anholt, Leo Bruinzeel, Birgit Erni, Jean-Michel Gaillard, Martin Kainz, Laurent Keller, Michael Schaub, Hans Schmid, and the reviewers for helpful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. Thanks to the Swiss Meteorological Institute for providing weather data. Res Altwegg and Alexandre Roulin were supported by grants from the Swiss Science Foundation (no. 81ZH-68483 to R.A, and 823A-064710 and PP00A—102913 to A.R.), an NSERC of Canada research grant (to B. Anholt), and a fellowship from the South African National Research Foundation (to R.A.).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Res Altwegg
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Alexandre Roulin
    • 3
  • Matthias Kestenholz
    • 4
  • Lukas Jenni
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of VictoriaVictoriaCanada
  2. 2.Department of Statistical Sciences, Avian Demography UnitUniversity of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa
  3. 3.Department of Ecology and EvolutionUniversity of LausanneLausanneSwitzerland
  4. 4.Swiss Ornithological InstituteSempachSwitzerland

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