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Impact of climate change and prey abundance on nesting success of a top predator, the goshawk

Abstract

Contemporary research has documented a large number of shifts in spring phenology and changes in distribution range although the average spring temperatures have increased by only 0.3–0.6 °C over the past 100 years. Generally, earlier breeding birds have larger clutch sizes, and the advancing spring could thus potentially increase breeding success. Shifts in spring phenology can, however, be crucial for bird reproduction, and mistiming the breeding event may even have negative consequences for population development. Our aim was to explore how weather and prey abundance relates to the breeding performance of a north European top predator, the northern goshawk Accipiter gentilis. Our nationwide dataset from Finland, spanning the period 1989–2004, shows that ambient weather has a greater impact on the timing and success of breeding than the density of grouse Tetraonidae, the main prey of goshawks. Higher early spring temperatures were associated with advancing hatching date of goshawks. Correspondingly, grouse density and temperature during laying and brooding were positively associated with brood size, while precipitation showed a negative connection. Applying our models to a future scenario of climate warming, combined with a 50 % reduction in grouse density, suggests that average breeding dates will advance only 2.5 days and average breeding success would remain the same. Notably, breeding success was not spatially equal throughout Finland, as northern and eastern populations suffered most from declining grouse densities. The observed pattern is thus the opposite to what is expected from a population situated at the northern edge of its distribution range, and thus may help to understand why populations may not increase at the northern edge of their thermal distribution due to climate change.

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Acknowledgments

Many voluntary ringers and hunters have taken part in collecting the goshawks and grouse data. The Ringing Centre of Finnish Museum of Natural History and the Game and Fisheries Research Institute have maintained the electronic ringing and grouse databases. This work was supported by grants from Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation (to A. Lehikoinen) and the Academy of Finland (A. Lindén; grant ref. 135682). Comments by Katrin Böhning-Gaese, Robert Kenward and Marcus Wikman improved the clarity of this manuscript. Kim Jaatinen kindly checked the language.

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Correspondence to Aleksi Lehikoinen.

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E. Ranta: Deceased.

Communicated by Christopher Johnson.

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Lehikoinen, A., Lindén, A., Byholm, P. et al. Impact of climate change and prey abundance on nesting success of a top predator, the goshawk. Oecologia 171, 283–293 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-012-2411-z

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-012-2411-z

Keywords

  • Global warming
  • Predator–prey interaction
  • Reproductive output
  • Timing of breeding
  • Future projections