Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 943–952 | Cite as

Population dynamics of Great Bittern (Botaurus stellaris) in the Netherlands: interaction effects of winter weather and habitat fragmentation

  • Anouk Cormont
  • Claire C. Vos
  • Jana Verboom
  • Chris A. M. van Turnhout
  • Ruud P. B. Foppen
  • Paul W. Goedhart
Original Article


The increased variability in weather as a manifestation of climate change is expected to have negative impacts on population survival in wildlife species, because it will likely lead to increased variation in vital demographic rates (mortality and reproduction) in these populations. For the effective protection of biodiversity, adaptation measures are needed to compensate for the expected increase in weather variability and the negative interaction with habitat fragmentation. As a case study, we studied the fluctuations in Great Bittern numbers (Botaurus stellaris) from 28 monitoring plots scattered over the Netherlands to explore the interaction between the effect of weather and possible remediating effects of the landscape structure. Great Bittern habitat surrounding these plots differs with respect to area, quality, and degree of isolation of this habitat. In western Europe, Great Bitterns are found to be susceptible to continuous loss of suitable habitat due to vegetation succession and fragmentation. Moreover, year-to-year fluctuations in local Great Bittern populations can be caused by severe winter weather or other weather extremes. Our results show that severe winter weather has indeed a significant negative impact on Great Bittern population growth rates. Furthermore, we found that an increased carrying capacity and spatial cohesion (i.e. inverse of habitat fragmentation) contribute to an increase in mean growth rates over the years. As growth rates are higher in large, well-connected habitats, we argue that recovery from negative effects of, e.g. severe winters on Great Bittern population numbers is enhanced in these less-fragmented habitats. We derived generic adaptation measures for enhancing the recovery rate of populations of species in general: one should invest in more large, well-connected nature areas, not only to diminish the negative effects of habitat fragmentation on wildlife populations, but additionally to reduce the impacts of climatic variability.


Great Bittern Population dynamics Climate change Weather Carrying capacity Spatial cohesion 



This research was funded by the Dutch national research programme ‘Climate Changes Spatial Planning’ and was part of the strategic research programme ‘Sustainable spatial development of ecosystems, landscapes, seas, and regions’ (Ecological Resilience Project) funded by the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature Conservation and Food Quality, and carried out by Wageningen University and Research centre. We thank Rogier Pouwels for his advice on calculation and interpretation of plot characteristics, Arjan de Bruijn for his statistical contribution, Victoria Radchuk and Michalis Vardakis for their help on spatial interpolations of plot characteristics and weather data, two anonymous reviewers for their comments on an earlier draft of the manuscript, and the thousands of observers who gathered breeding bird data in the past decennia, organized by SOVON coordinators Arjan Boele and Arend van Dijk—without their efforts this research would not have been possible.

Supplementary material

10113_2013_510_MOESM1_ESM.doc (256 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 256 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anouk Cormont
    • 1
    • 2
  • Claire C. Vos
    • 1
  • Jana Verboom
    • 1
  • Chris A. M. van Turnhout
    • 3
  • Ruud P. B. Foppen
    • 3
  • Paul W. Goedhart
    • 4
  1. 1.AlterraWageningen University and Research CentreWageningenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Land Use Planning GroupWageningen UniversityWageningenThe Netherlands
  3. 3.SOVONDutch Centre for Field OrnithologyNijmegenThe Netherlands
  4. 4.Biometris, Department of Mathematical and Statistical MethodsWageningen University and Research CentreWageningenThe Netherlands

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