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Landscape anthropization shapes the survival of a top avian scavenger

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Abstract

Events of non-natural mortality in human-dominated landscapes are especially challenging for populations of large vertebrates with K strategies. Among birds, vultures are one of the most threatened groups experiencing sharp population declines due to non-natural mortality. Factors causing non-natural mortality are usually studied separately. However, the potential use of an integrated index able to predict large-scale mortality risks of avian scavengers could be especially useful for planning conservation strategies. Here, we used the Human Footprint index to examine the impact of landscape anthropization on the survival rates of 66 GPS-tagged adult Eurasian griffon vultures (Gyps fulvus) in two Spanish regions. Foraging in more anthropized areas resulted in a significantly higher individual mortality risk mainly due to collisions with vehicles, poisonings, electrocutions and fatalities with wind turbines. Mean yearly survival rates were estimated at 0.817 ± 0.043 SE and 0.968 ± 0.018 SE for individuals from the more and less anthropized regions, respectively. Additional research should investigate whether some vulture populations could be acting as sinks unnoticed due to metapopulation dynamics. From a broader point of view, our study shows that a straightforward Human Footprint was a useful index to predict the survival of top scavengers and can be highly applicable to planning large-scale conservation measures.

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Acknowledgements

This research was funded by the Project RNM-1925 (Junta de Andalucía), the Project CGL2015-66966-C2-1-2-R (Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness and EU/ERDF) and the Project RTI2018-099609-B-C21 (Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness and EU/ERDF). “Roads Less Travelled” project (DiversEarth, Trashumancia y Naturaleza and Yolda Initiative) also contributed to this research. EA was supported by La Caixa-Severo Ochoa International PhD Program 2015. ASA and ACA by a post-doctoral contract Viçent Mut (PD/003/2016 and PD/039/2017, respectiely) co-funded by the Govern Balear and European Social Funds. ASA was also supported by a Spanish Ramón y Cajal contract (RYC-2017-22796) funded by the Ministerio de Ciencia, Innovación y Universidades, the Agencia Estatal de Investigación and the European Social Found. JMPG was supported by a Juan de la Cierva research contract (FJCI-2015-25632).

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Arrondo, E., Sanz-Aguilar, A., Pérez-García, J.M. et al. Landscape anthropization shapes the survival of a top avian scavenger. Biodivers Conserv 29, 1411–1425 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-020-01942-6

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