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Urban vultures preferentially roost at sites surrounded by landscapes with fewer edges between forest and urban development and near water

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Abstract

Land cover changes resulting from urbanization alter habitat structure and resource availability. Vultures provide ecosystem services such as nutrient cycling and may help limit disease transmission while also serving as cultural and spiritual icons, making them an important feature of landscapes worldwide. Urbanization may have positive and negative impacts on vultures, such as increasing foraging opportunities and decreasing nesting success due to anthropogenic activity, complicating our understanding of the effect of urbanization on these species. We examined how local and landscape features affect roost attendance of black vultures (Coragyps atratus) and turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) to better understand the factors that play a role in site selection and habitat and landscape use. We counted the number of vultures at twenty-nine roosting sites in the Charlotte Metropolitan Area, USA once a month between November and March over two years. At each roosting site, we measured relative roost height, distance to water, and open space, and calculated the amounts of Developed landcover, Developed-Forest edge density, and landfill density in surrounding landscapes of 0.4 to 20km radii. The top model for roost attendance included wind speed, open space, distance to water, Developed-Forest edge density within 15km and 20km, and survey date. All variables were associated with lower roost attendance. Our results suggest that vultures are roosting at sites with little open space surrounding roosts in landscapes with continuous forest cover near water and that developed landcover does not appear to be a primary factor in roosting attendance. Future research should investigate the natural and anthropogenic food sources used by vultures in urban landscapes to investigate whether anthropogenic food sources are a determining factor for vultures.

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Analyses reported in this article can be reproduced using the data published on PANGAEA upon article acceptance.

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Acknowledgements

We gratefully thank the volunteers and the community members who assisted with fieldwork.

Funding

This work was supported by a University of North Carolina at Charlotte Geology Scholars Award and a Mecklenburg Audubon Society Grant.

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All authors contributed to the study conception, design, and analysis. Hannah Partridge wrote the first draft of the manuscript and Sara Gagné made significant edits to the drafts. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Hannah C. Partridge.

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Partridge, H.C., Gagné, S.A. Urban vultures preferentially roost at sites surrounded by landscapes with fewer edges between forest and urban development and near water. Urban Ecosyst 26, 857–866 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11252-023-01332-0

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