Markov models of territory occupancy: implications for the management and conservation of competing species

  • Pascual López-LópezEmail author
  • Alvaro Soutullo
  • Clara García-Ripollés
  • Vicente Urios
  • Luis Cadahía
  • Miguel Ferrer
Original Paper


Markov chains have been frequently used in community ecology to model successional changes, but little attention has been paid to its application in population ecology as a tool to explore the outcomes of species interactions. Markov models can be regarded as “null models” that provide predicted values under a no-change scenario against which the consequences of changes in variables of interest can be assessed. Here we explore Markov chains’ potential to project population trends of competing species and derive sensible management strategies. To do that we use six years of field data on territory occupancy and turn-over of two competing top predators in a Mediterranean landscape: the golden and Bonelli’s eagles. The results suggest that long-term coexistence of both species in the study area is likely, with the main limitation for their coexistence being the difficulties Bonelli’s eagles have in colonising new territories that become available. To avoid future declines in the population of Bonelli’s eagle, it is important to take into account that the positive effects of conservation strategies focused on encouraging colonization (e.g. decreasing disperser mortality) are likely to be larger than those focused on avoiding territory abandonment (e.g. decreasing adult mortality). Markov chains are likely to be useful to evaluate the relative merit of alternative management options in other territorial species when patterns of territory occupancy are the only reliable data available, as often happens with large predators.


Aquila chrysaetos Aquila fasciata Markov chains Null models Raptors Spain 



Thanks are due to F. García-López and J. M. Aguilar for helping in the field work. The Conselleria de Territori i Habitatge of the Generalitat Valenciana provided financial support to complete the monitoring of the 2005 breeding season (Project N/REF. 28/BD/05). We would like to thank especially J. Jiménez and P. Mateache for their support and personal communications. P. Whitfield, M. Carrete and two anonymous referees made interesting comments on early drafts of the manuscript. The paper complies with the current laws of Spain. P. López-López is supported by a FPU grant of the Spanish Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia (reference AP2005-0874). This paper is a part of P. López-López Ph.D. thesis.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pascual López-López
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Alvaro Soutullo
    • 2
  • Clara García-Ripollés
    • 2
  • Vicente Urios
    • 2
  • Luis Cadahía
    • 3
  • Miguel Ferrer
    • 4
  1. 1.“Cavanilles” Institute of Biodiversity and Evolutionary Biology, Grupo Vertebrados TerrestresUniversity of ValenciaPaterna, ValenciaSpain
  2. 2.Estación Biológica Terra Natura (CIBIO–Fundación Terra Natura)Universidad de AlicanteAlicanteSpain
  3. 3.Departamento de Ecología EvolutivaEstación Biológica de Doñana, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones CientíficasSevillaSpain
  4. 4.Departamento de Conservación de la BiodiversidadEstación Biológica de Doñana, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones CientíficasSevillaSpain

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