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Man-made environments relationships with island raptors: endemics do not cope with habitat changes, the case of the island of Cuba

Abstract

Several studies conducted in neotropical islands have found that the intensity of human activity has altered the original structure and richness of bird communities, strongly affecting endemic species. Despite these effects, studies are limited, and lacking for raptors, in contrast to temperate and continental regions. During breeding and non-breeding seasons of 2012, roadside surveys and point counts were conducted in natural and human-transformed areas of the island of Cuba to determine whether or not raptors from an island show a pattern of ecological response to human activity similar to those observed in continental studies. Raptors showed strong variation in relation to habitat transformations, with lower richness, abundance, and density in the more extensively transformed areas. A total of 11 species was recorded, mostly in natural areas. Similar numbers of species were observed in coastal vegetation and cattle pasture habitat types within each zone. Nine species were detected in agriculture, while ten were found in forest habitat. A gradient of species-habitat was identified: Specialists/endemics tend to occur in natural areas, “intermediate species” in moderately modified areas and generalists in heavily modified areas. Generalists had higher abundances in anthropogenic areas, whereas specialists were found only in natural areas. Under insular conditions, land use changes can pose major threats for endemic and specialist raptors, seriously compromising their conservation. Endemic raptors do not cope well with habitat changes on the island, thus a rapid process of species impoverishment might be expected. Establishing a conservation program in Cuba is urgently needed.

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Acknowledgments

This work was supported by Empresa Nacional para la Protección de la Flora y la Fauna (Y.F.S.); a SEP-CONACYT México Grant (R.R.E., 155956); a doctoral fellowship from CONACyT México (Y.F.S., 256621); and the Rufford Small Grants Foundation (Y.F.S., 9509-1). Thanks to I. Ruiz, E. Rodríguez, A. Espinosa, N. Verdecia, L. Romo and H. Boche for field assistance. R. Tinajero for Distance software advice. We also thank S. Sánchez-Colón, M. Córdoba and B. Kus for editing the English language of the paper. Two anonymous reviewers improved an early draft of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Ricardo Rodríguez-Estrella.

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Communicated by Alexander N. G. Kirschel.

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Ferrer-Sánchez, Y., Rodríguez-Estrella, R. Man-made environments relationships with island raptors: endemics do not cope with habitat changes, the case of the island of Cuba. Biodivers Conserv 24, 407–425 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-014-0819-y

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Keywords

  • Land use changes
  • Raptors abundance
  • Gradient
  • Endemics
  • Cuban black-hawk
  • Gundlach’s hawk