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Density and habitat preferences of male little bustard across contrasting agro-pastoral landscapes in Sardinia (Italy)

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Abstract

The little bustard Tetrax tetrax has undergone severe range contraction within Europe due to abandonment of traditional agro-pastoral activities. Previous studies of habitat selection have mainly focused on extensive cereal and cropland mosaics, while the species’ ecology in pastoral landscapes is understood less well, and data are completely lacking from the Sardinian population. We conducted distance sampling surveys of displaying males across three contrasting landscapes in Sardinia and modelled habitat preference at both the landscape and local (within pastures and recent fallows) scale. Abbasanta, with a balance of pasture and cropland, the greatest isolation from roads and shortest vegetation, supported the highest little bustard densities (95%CI 2.7–3.4 males/100 ha). Significantly lower densities were found in two landscapes with lower isolation from roads and taller vegetation within grasslands: Campeda (0.1–0.2 males/100 ha), comprising cropland and pasture in similar proportions to those found at Abbasanta, and Campidano (0.3–0.4 males/100 ha) that was dominated by cereal agriculture. At the landscape level, males preferred pastures and recent fallows over arable lands. At the local scale, within grasslands, probability of occurrence was greater with shorter vegetation, more legume and green herb cover and at points remote from roads. Shorter vegetation in grasslands resulted from high grazing pressure, and habitat suitability for breeding males depends strongly on extensively grazed grasslands. Conservation efforts for this species should focus on maintaining traditional agro-pastoral practices which maintain large areas of extensively grazed pastures and recent fallows located far from roads.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Nigel Collar for encouragement throughout this study and the Agriturismo Nurag’elighe for logistic support. We are grateful to Mauro Aresu and Andreina Concas for their valuable assistance in field work, Alberto Cardillo for the assistance with spatial analysis and to all the landowners who kindly granted us access to their land. A. Santangeli was supported by a grant from the Sir Philip Reckitt Educational Trust. Two anonymous referees are also acknowledged for their constructive comments that improved the paper.

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Correspondence to Andrea Santangeli.

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Communicated by P. Acevedo

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Santangeli, A., Dolman, P.M. Density and habitat preferences of male little bustard across contrasting agro-pastoral landscapes in Sardinia (Italy). Eur J Wildl Res 57, 805–815 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10344-011-0492-3

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10344-011-0492-3

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