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Impact of introduced nest predators on insular endemic birds: the case of the Azores Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus azorica)

Abstract

Nest predation is the main cause of reproductive failure in many bird species. Identification of predators is crucial to understand and interpret the factors that affect nest predation. Although nest predation is a natural top-down regulator of bird populations, its effect is usually more dramatic when introduced predators are involved, particularly in oceanic islands. In the Azores archipelago, the endemic Azores Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus azorica) is believed to be under high predation pressure. We used motion-triggered cameras to monitor nests of the Azores Woodpigeon on two islands of the archipelago (Pico and Terceira) in order to identify nest predators, quantify their impact on this bird and better understand the determinants of predation rates. We sampled 56 nests, during 569 camera trap days, obtaining around 125,000 photographic records. Two introduced predators were identified, black rat (on both islands) and feral cat (only on Terceira), both depredating eggs and chicks. Breeding success, calculated using the Mayfield method, was estimated at 19% on Pico and only 9% on Terceira. Overall, predation was the main cause of breeding failure. General linear models showed that predation rates are positively correlated to fruit availability and negatively correlated to elevation, human population density and adult Woodpigeon attendance at the nest. Edge distance, nest height or cover of trees did not affect predation. Camera traps also provided additional and useful information on predator behaviour when approaching a nest and on daily activity patterns of both adult Woodpigeon and nest predators.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Diana Silva, Jose Ortolá, Alejandra Ros-Prieto, Rui Oliveira, Sophie Wallon, Rui Carvalho, Shan Wong, Rodrigo Schlesinger and Sara Pereira for their support during fieldwork. We are also grateful to Jagoba Malumbres-Olarte and João Malato for their help with the statistical analyses and to Megan Dickens for English language editing. Finally, we would like to acknowledge two anonymous reviewers for their suggestions and comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.

Funding

The work developed in Pico Island in 2017 was conducted within the framework of the project “Estudo aprofundado da biologia reprodutiva do pombo torcaz dos Açores e avaliação do seu impacto em terras de vinha” (Contract Number 30/DRA/2016, between Direção Regional do Ambiente and ICETA/CIBIO-UP), supported by “Açores 2020 - UE” (“Açores 2020 - Programa FEDER FSE”; “Portugal 2020”; “Governo dos Açores”). LL-L was supported by a grant from the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia - FCT (SFRH/BD/115022/2016).

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LL-L and RF contributed equally to this work. LL-L and RF contributed to field work. LL-L, RF and DG contributed to the conception/design of the work and to data analyses. LL-L, RF, DG and PAV contributed to manuscript writing.

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Correspondence to Lucas Lamelas-López.

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Our methods met all ethical guidelines for use of wild birds in research, as stipulated by the standards and policies of Portuguese law and special care was taken in order to minimize disturbance of breeding birds.

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Lamelas-López, L., Fontaine, R., Borges, P.A.V. et al. Impact of introduced nest predators on insular endemic birds: the case of the Azores Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus azorica). Biol Invasions 22, 3593–3608 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-020-02343-0

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Keywords

  • Avian predation
  • Camera-trapping
  • Felis catus
  • Oceanic islands
  • Rattus rattus