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Short-term effects of predator removal and habitat restoration on ground-nesting birds in drained forests

Abstract

Artificial drainage of wetlands can increase nest predation risk through landscape changes that support higher predator numbers or expose the nests. We experimentally studied how nest predation responds to reversing such pressures by forested wetland restoration and predator removal. We studied two pairs of experimental and control landscapes in north-eastern (NE) and southwestern (SW) Estonia, where mammalian mesopredators were specifically hunted. Within the SW landscape pair, we simultaneously had a replicated before-after-control-impact experiment of restoring sparse pine wetlands for the capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) by ditch blocking and partial cutting. Three years after the habitat manipulations, we found drastically increased predation rates of artificial ground nests across those restoration blocks (including uncut stands there), with no compensating effect of the predator removal. However, outside the experimental blocks of the SW predator removal landscape, higher reproductive success of the hazel grouse (Tetrastes bonasia) and capercaillie was recorded after the removal; there was also evidence of improved landscape-scale survival of artificial nests in both the SW and NE removal landscapes. These results indicate that wetland restoration can suppress grouse reproduction at least in the short term, but predator control can mitigate these effects on a broader scale. Restoring habitat quality in forested wetlands is a complex task that requires long-term studies of alternatives and precautionary approaches.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to the many volunteers who helped to collect data on grouse broods, and to the Estonian Fund for Nature for co-organizing the surveys; to Karli Ligi for assisting in the artificial nest experiment in 2014; and to Liina Remm for providing comments on an early draft of the manuscript. A subject editor and three reviewers provided a very constructive editorial process. The State Forest Management Centre carried out the habitat manipulations in 2015–2016, organized the predator removal (Kalev Männiste and Raul Orgla), and provided funding for M.P. E.P. was supported by the State Forest Management Centre in 2013 and by the Environmental Board in 2016 and 2018. A.L. has been supported by the Estonian Research Council project IUT 34-7.

Funding

The State Forest Management Centre carried out the habitat manipulations in 2015–2016, organized the predator removal (Kalev Männiste and Raul Orgla), and provided funding for M.P. E.P. was supported by the State Forest Management Centre in 2013 and by the Environmental Board in 2016 and 2018. A.L. has been supported by the Estonian Research Council project IUT 34-7.

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Correspondence to Eliisa Pass.

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Appendices

Appendix 1

Relationship between the annual proportion of capercaille and hazel grouse hens with broods

Breeding success of the capercaille (blue symbols) and hazel grouse (orange symbols) in the study landscapes. Each data point refers to the success (% hens with broods) in one landscape in one year; it is based on 7–19 capercaillie or 12–21 hazel grouse hens. Circles are the two SW landscapes (data from three years) and triangles the two NE landscapes (only 2016). The lines connect changes in the same SW landscapes (solid line, filled circle—the predator removal landscape; dashed line—the control landscape).

figure a

Appendix 2

Experimental design of habitat restoration treatments

figure b

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Pass, E., Pensa, M. & Lõhmus, A. Short-term effects of predator removal and habitat restoration on ground-nesting birds in drained forests. Wetlands Ecol Manage 30, 161–169 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11273-021-09826-4

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11273-021-09826-4

Keywords

  • Artificial drainage
  • Birds
  • Bog forest
  • Ditch blocking
  • Thinning
  • Wetland landscape