Settlement, habitat preference, reproduction, and genetic diversity in recovering the white-tailed eagle Haliaeetus albicilla population

Abstract

The recovering population of white-tailed eagles Haliaeetus albicilla was studied in Lithuania, Central Europe. In the present study, we focused on (1) clarifying which theoretical distribution model better fits and describes the observed pattern of eagle settlement, (2) examining habitat preference at the level of nesting territory and its relationship with reproduction, (3) ascertaining the genetic diversity profile of the population using D-loop mtDNA. Between 1985 and 2011, the white-tailed eagle population recovered from 0 to 120 pairs and by the end of the period occupied a range of 34,000 km2. As indicated by a mean annual breeding success of 0.67, productivity 1.15, and brood size 1.73, the population reproduced well. The pattern of habitat settlement during the period of population expansion was not random as high-quality habitats were occupied first. Supporting the ideal free distribution model, reproduction was similar across nesting territories in three different habitat types, as well as between territories established in different years. The eagles preferred aquatic habitats, but these preferences were not adaptive in terms of breeding performance. Increased brood failures in later years possibly indicated the growing effect of density-dependent regulation. In total, six different haplotypes were identified in the sample of 45 individual birds. Haplotype diversity was 0.711. Phylogenetically, the Lithuanian population is most closely related to the populations of Sweden, Poland, and Germany, while similarity with Lapland, Kola, and Estonian populations was evident too. These findings indicate possible source populations directly or indirectly participating in the process of recovery of the formerly extinct Lithuanian population. Haplotypes distribution across the three habitat types in Lithuania was uneven.

Zusammenfassung

Besiedlung, Habitat-Präferenz, Fortpflanzung und genetische Vielfalt in einer sich wiederaufbauenden Seeadler-Population ( Haliaeetus albicilla ) Die hier untersuchte, sich wieder entwickelnde Population des Seeadlers (Haliaeetus albicilla) lag in Litauen, Zentraleuropa. Wir konzentrierten uns in der Untersuchung darauf, 1) welches theoretische Verbreitungs-Modell die beobachtete Besiedlung durch die Seeadler am besten beschreibt, 2) auf eine Prüfung möglicher Habitat-Präferenzen bei den Brutplätzen und eines Zusammenhangs mit der Fortpflanzung und 3) auf eine Bestimmung des Profils der genetischen Vielfalt in dieser Population mit Hilfe der D-loop mtDNS. Zwischen 1985 und 2011 erholte sich die Seeadler-Population von Null auf 120 Paare und besetzte gegen Ende der Beobachtungszeit ein 34.000 km2 großes Gebiet. Wie der mittlere jährliche Bruterfolg von 0,67, eine Produktivität von 1,15 und eine Gelegegröße von 1,73 nahelegen, entwickelte sich die Population gut. Während der Wachstumsphase der Population verlief die Besiedlung der Habitate nicht nach einem Zufallsmuster, sondern qualitativ hochwertige Habitate wurden als erste besetzt. In Unterstützung des Modells einer freien Verbreitung war die Fortpflanzung in drei unterschiedlichen Habitat-Typen sowie in Nist-Gebieten unterschiedlicher Jahre sehr ähnlich. Die Seeadler bevorzugten aquatische Lebensräume, diese Präferenz war hinsichtlich des Fortpflanzungserfolgs jedoch nicht adaptiv. Die Zunahme von Brut-Mißerfolgen in späteren Jahren wies möglicherweise auf den wachsenden Effekt eines dichteabhängigen Regelungsmechanismus hin. Insgesamt wurden in einer Stichprobe von 45 Vögeln sechs unterschiedliche Haplotypen festgestellt, die Haplotyp-Diversität lag bei 0,711. Phylogenetisch ist die litauische Population mit denen in Schweden, Polen und Deutschland am nächsten verwandt, wobei es auch klare Ähnlichkeiten mit Populationen in Lappland, Estland und auf der Kola-Halbinsel gab. Diese Ergebnisse legen den Schluss nahe, dass bei der Erholung der früher ausgestorbenen litauischen Population Quellen-Populationen direkt oder indirekt eine Rolle spielen. Die Haplotypen waren auf die drei Habitat-Typen in Litauen ungleich verteilt.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Rūta Meleckytė for assistance in genetic analysis. We are also grateful to Jos Stratford for English editing.

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Correspondence to Rimgaudas Treinys.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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This study was partly funded by the private limited company LITAGRA and the Ministry of Environment of the Republic of Lithuania.

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All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.

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Communicated by M. Wink.

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Treinys, R., Dementavičius, D., Rumbutis, S. et al. Settlement, habitat preference, reproduction, and genetic diversity in recovering the white-tailed eagle Haliaeetus albicilla population. J Ornithol 157, 311–323 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-015-1280-8

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Keywords

  • Ideal free distribution
  • Breeding success
  • mtDNA