Earlier this month, the British Ornithologists’ Union held its annual conference at the University of Leicester. The theme of this year’s conference was the Ecology and Conservation of Birds in Upland and Alpine Habitats.
Conferences like these allow research scientists to present their latest findings to their peer group. This particular conference was of great interest to us, given the high levels of illegal raptor persecution associated with upland moors that are managed intensively for grouse shooting.
There were several presentations worthy of note (and you can read the abstracts in the PDF below) but we wanted to highlight one that many of you will probably be interested in. The presenter, Richard Francksen, a PhD student at Newcastle University, won an award for this research: Best poster presentation by an early career researcher.
Research Title: Common buzzard Buteo buteo diet in relation to changes in vole abundance.
Researchers: Richard Francksen, Mark Whittingham and David Baines.
Here’s the abstract:
Predators whose most important prey are field voles Microtus agrestis are often assumed to increase their predation on other prey groups when vole abundances decline. However, this assumption may not be valid for all prey groups and habitats available to predators. In Britain, voles are an important prey item for common buzzards Buteo buteo, and often form a principal component of the diet throughout much of their geographic range. Langholm Moor in south-west Scotland is an area of upland moorland managed for red grouse Lagopus lagopus scoticus, in which vole indices typically cycle over a three to four year period. We studied vole abundance and buzzard diet at Langholm Moor between 2011 and 2013, which encompassed a complete vole cycle. Breeding buzzards on Langholm Moor have previously been shown to eat red grouse in small numbers alongside their preferred vole prey. Buzzard diet was monitored at 13-16 nests each year using motion triggered cameras, analysis of prey remains and pellet content. An Index of Relative Importance was used to assess the importance of various prey groups to buzzard diet and it was found that the proportion of voles in buzzard diet decreased in line with vole indices. We hypothesised that when vole availability diminished, buzzards would switch to increased predation of red grouse and their chicks, However, grouse were less frequent in buzzard diet when vole indices were low. Instead, buzzards switched to eating more lagomorphs, moles, shrews and corvids; prey groups typically associated with moorland fringe and farmland habitats. This may suggest that when provisioning their chicks, buzzards take red grouse only incidentally while hunting for voles within moorland habitats. When assessing diet and investigating predator impact on prey species, knowledge of all resources and habitats that are available to predators is important.
Other presentations of note include:
Weston et al. Prospecting forays inform young golden eagles prior to emigrating from their natal home range. [Page 10, abstracts book).
Amar & Redpath. Hen harriers in the UK: a tale of contrasting fortunes. [Page 11].
Carroll et al. Impacts of drainage and climate change on keystone insects and upland breeding birds. [Page 21].
Baines et al. Grouse moor management: effects on other upland birds in the UK. [Page 25].
Thompson et al. Does intensive grouse moor management benefit the UK uplands? [Page 26].
Roos et al. Predation and upland birds. [Page 28].
Redpath and Young. The role of ecology in addressing conflicts over upland birds. [Page 33].
Downloadable book of abstracts: BOU Uplands Conference 2014 – abstracts
Photos from the conference here