Landscape Ecology

, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 201–215 | Cite as

The Swallow and the Sparrow: how agricultural intensification affects abundance, nest site selection and competitive interactions

  • Audrey RobillardEmail author
  • Dany Garant
  • Marc Bélisle
Research Article


Intensification of farming practices is a key factor in population declines of many species, including aerial insectivores. Of these species, Tree Swallow populations have been declining rapidly in Canada, likely in response to increased pesticide use (depleting insect prey) and destruction of marginal habitats (limiting cavity-nesting opportunities). Agricultural intensification may however be favourable to other species. House Sparrows for instance could benefit from abundant nesting sites (farm buildings) and food resources (grains) in intensive landscapes. Competition for nesting sites between these two species has been observed, and could be another factor in the decline of Tree Swallows. In a 400 nest-box study system embedded along a gradient of agricultural intensification of Southern Québec, Canada, we first assessed effects of intensification on abundance of House Sparrows by analysing 5,200 min of point counts. From these results, we modeled influence of competition and habitat on Tree Swallow nest site selection. Density of sparrows and proximity to buildings reduced the nest-box occupancy of swallows. Therefore, agricultural intensification had opposite influences on these two species, directly affecting House Sparrow abundance, but indirectly exacerbating competition pressure on swallows through competitor abundance. These results provide evidence of interspecific competition between these species, highlighting the indirect role of anthropogenic alterations on agro-ecosytems and illustrating a landscape-mediated avian competition pressure that has, to our knowledge, never been documented in farmscapes.


Abundance Agricultural intensification House sparrow Interspecific nest-site competition Landscape structure Nest-box occupancy Passer domesticus Tachycineta bicolor Tree swallow 



We are grateful to R. Baeta, A. Ghilain, A. Lessard, G. Pigeon, S. Lord, M.-P. Ricard, B. Laval, B. Delahaie, R. Roy, S. Fortin-Guérin, V. Bellavance, S. Quirion, V. Tremblay-Provençal, M. Léger-Dalcourt, L. Laplante and S. Daoust-Payette for their help on the field. We also thank C. Girard and G. Diab for their help with geomatics. We are also thankful to S. Rioux-Paquette, M. Festa-Bianchet, F. Pelletier and two anonymous reviewers for valuable comments on earlier version of this manuscript. This study would not have been possible without the access to the farms, we thank the 40 landowners. This work was supported by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery Grants (DG and MB), by the Canada Research Chair in Spatial and Landscape Ecology (MB), as well as by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (DG and MB).

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 33 kb)


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Département de biologieUniversité LavalQuebecCanada
  2. 2.Département de biologieUniversité de SherbrookeSherbrookeCanada

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