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Effects of weather variation on a declining population of Slavonian Grebes Podiceps auritus

Abstract

There is an urgent need to develop a detailed understanding of the impacts of climate change on potentially sensitive species of conservation concern. The small population of Slavonian (or Horned) Grebes Podiceps auritus in Scotland has declined markedly in the last two decades in line with predictions of retrospective bioclimatic models. Here, we exploit a long-term, population-wide dataset to investigate the effects of climate variation on key population parameters in this species, and to assess whether climate change has contributed to its decline. Breeding success of Slavonian Grebes in Scotland is low, but a change in breeding success does not appear to account for the population decline. Grebe population parameters were strongly associated with weather conditions during the breeding season, with a positive effect of temperature during the chick period on breeding success and a negative effect of breeding season rainfall on population growth rates. There was, however, no clear evidence linking climate change to the Slavonian Grebe’s decline, with neither of these key weather variables demonstrating long-term directional trends. Despite this, we nevertheless conclude that the potential effects of climate change on Slavonian Grebes cannot be discounted, as climate impacts may be mediated via mechanisms not considered here. Marked recent changes in Slavonian Grebe populations have also been documented in other northern European countries, and we suggest that a priority of future research should be to try to understand the decline of Slavonian Grebes in Scotland in light of these regional scale population dynamics, which might themselves by climate driven.

Zusammenfassung

Einfluss von Wetterveränderungen auf eine abnehmende Population des Ohrentauchers ( Podiceps auritus )

Es gibt einen dringenden Bedarf an einem detaillierten Verständnis des Einflusses von Klimaveränderungen auf möglicherweise empfindliche Arten von besonderem Schutzinteresse. Die kleine Population des Ohrentauchers in Schottland hat in den letzten zwei Jahrzehnten deutlich abgenommen, wie von rückblickenden bioklimatischen Modellen vorhergesagt. Hier untersuchen wir einen populationsweiten langfristigen Datensatz, um die Einflüsse von Klimawandel auf wesentliche Populationsparameter in dieser Art zu untersuchen und abzuschätzen, ob der Klimawandel einen Beitrag zu ihrem Rückgang geleistet hat. Der Bruterfolg des Ohrentauchers in Schottland ist gering, aber eine Veränderung im Bruterfolg scheint nicht für den Rückgang der Population verantwortlich zu sein. Die Populationsparameter der Taucher hingen stark mit den Wetterbedingungen während der Brutsaison zusammen, mit einem positiven Effekt der Temperatur auf den Bruterfolg während der Kükenzeit und einem negativen Effekt des Regenfalls auf die Wachstumsraten der Population. Allerdings gab es keinen klaren Hinweis auf einen Zusammenhang zwischen Klimawandel und dem Rückgang der Taucher, weil keine dieser Variablen einen länger dauernden gerichteten Trend zeigte. Trotzdem kommen wir zu dem Schluss, dass die möglichen Effekte des Klimawandels auf die Taucher nicht vernachlässigt werden können, weil ein Einfluss des Klimawandels über Mechanismen vermittelt sein könnte, die hier nicht untersucht wurden. Deutliche kürzliche Veränderungen in der Taucherpopulation wurden auch in anderen nordeuropäischen Ländern nachgewiesen, und wir meinen, dass es eine Priorität zukünftiger Untersuchungen sein sollte, den Rückgang der Taucher in Schottland im Licht regionaler Populationsdynamik zu sehen, die selbst durch Klimawandel angetrieben sein könnte.

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Acknowledgments

The long-term Slavonian Grebe dataset has been collected over the course of four decades by a dedicated group of volunteers and RSPB staff. We would like to thank all the people who have contributed to the collection of this data, and whilst they are too numerous to name individually, we especially thank Malcolm Harvey who has participated in every annual count since 1971, co-ordinating many of them. Earlier versions of this paper were substantially improved by comments from Ron Summers, Mark Hancock, Richard Bradbury, and two anonymous reviewers.

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Correspondence to Steven R. Ewing.

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Communicated by J. Fjeldså.

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Ewing, S.R., Benn, S., Cowie, N. et al. Effects of weather variation on a declining population of Slavonian Grebes Podiceps auritus . J Ornithol 154, 995–1006 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-013-0967-y

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-013-0967-y

Keywords

  • Horned Grebe
  • Population dynamics
  • Breeding success
  • Climate change
  • Rainfall