Population Ecology

, Volume 57, Issue 4, pp 625–636 | Cite as

Evaluating the influence of diet-related variables on breeding performance and home range behaviour of a top predator

  • Rui Lourenço
  • Maria del Mar Delgado
  • Letizia Campioni
  • Erkki Korpimäki
  • Vincenzo Penteriani
Original article


Diet composition is linked to reproductive performance directly or indirectly by other life-history traits, including home range behaviour. The relationships between prey abundance, diet and individual fitness have often been explored. However, these relationships are complex and difficult to disentangle, especially in vertebrate top predators. Here, we present the results of a long-term study using multi-model inference procedures to elucidate the influence of diet-related variables on breeding parameters and home range behaviour of a top predator, the eagle owl Bubo bubo. Superpredation, diet diversity, rat biomass and rabbit mean weight were the most important variables when analysing reproductive parameters, suggesting that less diverse diets with greater rabbit biomass percentage may benefit reproductive performance, whereas rat biomass percentage is apparently associated with greater variation of breeding success. Earlier laying dates seem to be associated with the consumption, on average, of smaller rabbits. On the other hand, edge density was the most relevant factor determining the variation in home range behaviour, with individual characteristics, such as age and sex, also being important. Although the relative importance of the diet-related variables was generally low, mean weight of alternative prey, diet diversity and rabbit biomass also helped to explain home range parameters. In an optimal foraging context, centred on the abundance of the main prey species, our results suggest that when rabbits are less available eagle owls may increase home range size in order to obtain alternative prey, increasing at the same time their dietary diversity, which may also require higher movement speed.


Diet diversity Foraging theory Optimal diet Predator–prey relationships Prey size variation 



We acknowledge the comments of David Serrano and two anonymous reviewers which improved a previous version of the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest. The Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (CGL2012–33240; FEDER co-financing) funded this study. R.L. (BPD/78241/2011) and L.C. (BPD/89904/2012) were supported by post-doctoral grants from Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (Portugal POPH/QREN). We trapped eagle owls under Junta de Andalucía-Consejería Medio Ambiente authorizations (SCFFS-AFR/GGG RS-260/02; SCFFS-AFR/CMM RS-1904/02), ensuring the welfare of all involved animals. All authors have expressed their explicit consent for the publication of this study.

Supplementary material

10144_2015_506_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (144 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 144 kb)


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Copyright information

© The Society of Population Ecology and Springer Japan 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Labor-Laboratory of Ornithology, Instituto de Ciências Agrárias e Ambientais MediterrânicasUniversidade de Évora-Núcleo da MitraÉvoraPortugal
  2. 2.Department of Conservation BiologyEstación Biológica de Doñana, CSICSevilleSpain
  3. 3.Metapopulation Research Group, Department of BiosciencesUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland
  4. 4.MARE, Marine and Environmental Sciences CentreISPA Instituto UniversitárioLisbonPortugal
  5. 5.Section of Ecology, Department of BiologyUniversity of TurkuTurkuFinland
  6. 6.Research Unit of Biodiversity (UMIB, UO-CSIC-PA)Oviedo University-Campus MieresMieresSpain

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