Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 63–83 | Cite as

A multi-scale approach for identifying conservation needs of two threatened sympatric steppe birds

  • Ana Benítez-LópezEmail author
  • Javier Viñuela
  • François Mougeot
  • Jesús T. García
Original Paper


Habitat selection is an inherently scale-sensitive process in which detected selection patterns frequently depend on the scale of analysis employed. We used a multi-scale modelling approach to identify how the distributions of two sympatric birds are shaped by differential selection at the landscape, land use and microhabitat scales and by human infrastructures as possible sources of disturbance. We studied two threatened steppe birds, the pin-tailed sandgrouse (PTS) and black-bellied sandgrouse (BBS) in central Spain. Land use gradients explained most of the variation in PTS and BBS occurrence, but there was cross-scale interdependence between the lower (microhabitat) and upper (landscape) spatial scales for the PTS. Synergies between the three scales highlighted the importance of integrating habitat scales in a single modelling framework. The process of habitat selection was also modulated by human disturbance. Both species selected ploughs of large size distant from houses, tracks and other infrastructures, although BBS exhibited broader habitat tolerance than the PTS, and was more sensitive to human disturbance. At microhabitat scale, PTS selected ploughs with greater green vegetation cover and insect abundance and fallows with lower dry vegetation cover and height but greater stone cover. This might reflect a trade-off between camouflage (vegetation and stone cover for concealment) and visibility for predator detection and escape. Ploughs and fallows should be maintained by means of traditional 2-year rotations and low management during the breeding season. Ongoing urbanization trends and infrastructure development inside protected areas should be limited. Multi-scale models were key to identify scale-specific factors that determine sandgrouse habitat preferences and conservation requirements at appropriate levels, and are recommended to better guide regional and local conservation efforts of threatened species.


Conservation Ecological modelling Habitat selection Human disturbance Pterocles alchata Pterocles orientalis 



We are deeply grateful to all people that help us with fieldwork. Special recognition goes to Fidel, Iván García and Jesús Carrasco for their efforts. Three anonymous reviewers and the associate editor made valuable comments on the manuscript. Sandgrouse illustrations belong to SEO-BirdLife. This study is a contribution to the CGL2008-04282/BOS Project funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science. A. Benítez-López was supported by the CGL2008-04282/BOS Project and by the 2012-BIN-4462 research Grant conceded by the UCLM. F. Mougeot was supported by a distinguished visitor award from the University of Cape Town (2015).

Supplementary material

10531_2016_1222_MOESM1_ESM.docx (6 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 6126 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Instituto de Investigación en Recursos CinegéticosIREC (CSIC-UCLM-JCCM)Ciudad RealSpain
  2. 2.Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African OrnithologyUniversity of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa
  3. 3.Department of Environmental Science, Institute for Wetland and Water ResearchRadboud UniversityNijmegenThe Netherlands

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