The response of montane and subalpine hay meadow plant and arthropod communities to the application of liquid manure and aerial irrigation - two novel, rapidly spreading management practices - remains poorly understood, which hampers the formulation of best practice management recommendations for both hay production and biodiversity preservation. In these nutrient-poor mountain grasslands, a moderate management regime could enhance overall conditions for biodiversity. This study experimentally assessed, at the site scale, among low-input montane and subalpine meadows, the short-term effects (1 year) of a moderate intensification (slurry fertilization: 26.7-53.3 kg N·ha(-1)·year(-1); irrigation with sprinklers: 20 mm·week(-1); singly or combined together) on plant species richness, vegetation structure, hay production, and arthropod abundance and biomass in the inner European Alps (Valais, SW Switzerland). Results show that (1) montane and subalpine hay meadow ecological communities respond very rapidly to an intensification of management practices; (2) on a short-term basis, a moderate intensification of very low-input hay meadows has positive effects on plant species richness, vegetation structure, hay production, and arthropod abundance and biomass; (3) vegetation structure is likely to be the key factor limiting arthropod abundance and biomass. Our ongoing experiments will in the longer term identify which level of management intensity achieves an optimal balance between biodiversity and hay production.
In order to maximize their fitness, individuals aim at choosing territories offering the most appropriate combination of resources. As population size fluctuates in time, the frequency of breeding territory occupancy reflects territory quality. We investigated the relationships between the frequency of territory occupancy (2002-2009) vs. habitat characteristics, prey abundance, reproductive success and parental traits in hoopoes Upupa epops L., with the objective to define proxies for the delineation of conservation priority areas. We predicted that the distribution of phenotypes is despotic and sought for phenotypic characteristics expressing dominance. Our findings support the hypothesis of a despotic distribution. Territory selection was non-random: frequently occupied territories were settled earlier in the season and yielded higher annual reproductive success, but the frequency of territory occupancy could not be related to any habitat characteristics. Males found in frequently occupied territories showed traits expressing dominance (i.e. larger body size and mass, and older age). In contrast, morphological traits of females were not related to the frequency of territory occupancy, suggesting that territory selection and maintenance were essentially a male's task. Settlement time in spring, reproductive success achieved in a given territory, as well as phenotypic traits and age of male territory holders reflected territory quality, providing good proxies for assessing priority areas for conservation management.
Species adapted to cold-climatic mountain environments are expected to face a high risk of range contractions, if not local extinctions under climate change. Yet, the populations of many endothermic species may not be primarily affected by physiological constraints, but indirectly by climate-induced changes of habitat characteristics. In mountain forests, where vertebrate species largely depend on vegetation composition and structure, deteriorating habitat suitability may thus be mitigated or even compensated by habitat management aiming at compositional and structural enhancement. We tested this possibility using four cold-adapted bird species with complementary habitat requirements as model organisms. Based on species data and environmental information collected in 300 1-km2 grid cells distributed across four mountain ranges in central Europe, we investigated (1) how species' occurrence is explained by climate, landscape, and vegetation, (2) to what extent climate change and climate-induced vegetation changes will affect habitat suitability, and (3) whether these changes could be compensated by adaptive habitat management. Species presence was modelled as a function of climate, landscape and vegetation variables under current climate; moreover, vegetation-climate relationships were assessed. The models were extrapolated to the climatic conditions of 2050, assuming the moderate IPCC-scenario A1B, and changes in species' occurrence probability were quantified. Finally, we assessed the maximum increase in occurrence probability that could be achieved by modifying one or multiple vegetation variables under altered climate conditions. Climate variables contributed significantly to explaining species occurrence, and expected climatic changes, as well as climate-induced vegetation trends, decreased the occurrence probability of all four species, particularly at the low-altitudinal margins of their distribution. These effects could be partly compensated by modifying single vegetation factors, but full compensation would only be achieved if several factors were changed in concert. The results illustrate the possibilities and limitations of adaptive species conservation management under climate change.
Bees are a key component of biodiversity as they ensure a crucial ecosystem service: pollination. This ecosystem service is nowadays threatened, because bees suffer from agricultural intensification. Yet, bees rarely benefit from the measures established to promote biodiversity in farmland, such as agri-environment schemes (AES). We experimentally tested if the spatio-temporal modification of mowing regimes within extensively managed hay meadows, a widespread AES, can promote bees. We applied a randomized block design, replicated 12 times across the Swiss lowlands, that consisted of three different mowing treatments: 1) first cut not before 15 June (conventional regime for meadows within Swiss AES); 2) first cut not before 15 June, as treatment 1 but with 15% of area left uncut serving as a refuge; 3) first cut not before 15 July. Bees were collected with pan traps, twice during the vegetation season (before and after mowing). Wild bee abundance and species richness significantly increased in meadows where uncut refuges were left, in comparison to meadows without refuges: there was both an immediate (within year) and cumulative (from one year to the following) positive effect of the uncut refuge treatment. An immediate positive effect of delayed mowing was also evidenced in both wild bees and honey bees. Conventional AES could easily accommodate such a simple management prescription that promotes farmland biodiversity and is likely to enhance pollination services.
With rates of climate change exceeding the rate at which many species are able to shift their range or adapt, it is important to understand how future changes are likely to affect biodiversity at all levels of organisation. Understanding past responses and extent of niche conservatism in climatic tolerance can help predict future consequences. We use an integrated approach to determine the genetic consequences of past and future climate changes on a bat species, Plecotus austriacus. Glacial refugia predicted by palaeo-modelling match those identified from analyses of extant genetic diversity and model-based inference of demographic history. Former refugial populations currently contain disproportionately high genetic diversity, but niche conservatism, shifts in suitable areas and barriers to migration mean that these hotspots of genetic diversity are under threat from future climate change. Evidence of population decline despite recent northward migration highlights the need to conserve leading-edge populations for spearheading future range shifts.
Reproducing parents face the difficult challenge of trading-off investment in current reproduction against presumed future survival and reproduction. Glucocorticoids are supposed to mediate this trade-off because the adrenocortical response to stress disrupts normal reproductive behaviour in favour of self-maintenance and own survival. According to the brood-value hypothesis, individuals with a low survival probability until the next reproductive season have to invest in current reproduction, a process driven by a down-regulation of their adrenocortical response. If the adrenocortical response to stress effectively mediates the trade-off between current reproduction versus future survival and reproduction, we expect a negative relationship with reproductive success and a positive correlation of the adrenocortical stress response with survival. We studied the relationship between corticosterone secretion in parents and their current brood value, reproductive success and survival in a short-lived multi-brooded bird, the Eurasian hoopoe Upupa epops. The adrenocortical response to acute handling stress was correlated with the brood value within the individual (first and second broods of the year) and between individuals. Birds breeding late in the season mounted a lower total corticosterone response to acute stress than birds breeding earlier, while females showed lower levels than males. We observed a negative relationship between the adrenocortical stress response and rearing success or fledging success in females, as predicted by the brood-value hypothesis. However, we could not evidence a clear link between the adrenocortical stress response and survival. Future research testing the brood-value hypothesis and trade-offs between current reproduction and future survival should also measure free corticosterone and carefully differentiate between cross-sectional (i.e. between-individual) and individual-based experimental studies.
The exchange of individuals among populations can have strong effects on the dynamics and persistence of a given population. Yet, estimation of immigration rates remains one of the greatest challenges for animal demographers. Little empirical knowledge exists about the effects of immigration on population dynamics. New integrated population models fitted using Bayesian methods enable simultaneous estimation of fecundity, survival and immigration, as well as the growth rate of a population of interest. We applied this novel analytical framework to the demography of two populations of long-distance migratory birds, hoopoe Upupa epops and wryneck Jynx torquilla, in a study area in south-western Switzerland. During 2002-2010, the hoopoe population increased annually by 11%, while the wryneck population remained fairly stable. Apparent juvenile and adult survival probability was nearly identical in both species, but fecundity and immigration were slightly higher in the hoopoe. Hoopoe population growth rate was strongly correlated with juvenile survival, fecundity and immigration, while that of wrynecks strongly correlated only with immigration. This indicates that demographic components impacting the arrival of new individuals into the populations were more important for their dynamics than demographic components affecting the loss of individuals. The finding that immigration plays a crucial role in the population growth rates of these two rare species emphasizes the need for a broad rather than local perspective for population studies, and the development of wide-scale conservation actions.
Outdoor winter recreation exerts an increasing pressure upon mountain ecosystems, with unpredictable, free-ranging activities (e.g., ski mountaineering, snowboarding, and snowshoeing) representing a major source of stress for wildlife. Mitigating anthropogenic disturbance requires the spatially explicit prediction of the interference between the activities of humans and wildlife. We applied spatial modeling to localize conflict zones between wintering Black Grouse (Tetrao tetrix), a declining species of Alpine timberline ecosystems, and two free-ranging winter sports (off-piste skiing [including snow-boarding] and snowshoeing). Track data (snow-sports and birds traces) obtained from aerial photographs taken over a 585-km transect running along the timberline, implemented within a maximum entropy model, were used to predict the occurrence of snow sports and Black Grouse as a function of landscape characteristics. By modeling Black Grouse presence in the theoretical absence of free-ranging activities and ski infrastructure, we first estimated the amount of habitat reduction caused by these two factors. The models were then extrapolated to the altitudinal range occupied by Black Grouse, while the spatial extent and intensity of potential conflict were assessed by calculating the probability of human-wildlife co-occurrence. The two snow-sports showed different distribution patterns. Skiers occurrence was mainly determined by ski-lift presence and a smooth terrain, while snowshoers occurrence was linked to hiking or skiing routes and moderate slopes. Wintering Black Grouse avoided ski lifts and areas frequented by free-ranging snow sports. According to the models, Black Grouse have faced a substantial reduction of suitable wintering habitat along the timberline transect: 12% due to ski infrastructure and another 16% when adding free-ranging activities. Extrapolating the models over the whole study area results in an overall habitat loss due to ski infrastructure of 10%, while there was a > 10% probability of human-wildlife encounters on 67% of the remaining area of suitable wintering habitat. Only 23% of the wintering habitat was thus free of anthropogenic disturbance. By identifying zones of potential conflict, while rating its relative intensity, our model provides a powerful tool to delineate and prioritize areas where wildlife winter refuges and visitor steering measures should be implemented.
Conceived to combat widescale biodiversity erosion in farmland, agri-environment schemes have largely failed to deliver their promises despite massive financial support. While several common species have shown to react positively to existing measures, rare species have continued to decline in most European countries. Of particular concern is the status of insectivorous farmland birds that forage on the ground. We modelled the foraging habitat preferences of four declining insectivorous bird species (hoopoe, wryneck, woodlark, common redstart) inhabiting fruit tree plantations, orchards and vineyards. All species preferred foraging in habitat mosaics consisting of patches of grass and bare ground, with an optimal, species-specific bare ground coverage of 30-70% at the foraging patch scale. In the study areas, birds thrived in intensively cultivated farmland where such ground vegetation mosaics existed. Not promoted by conventional agri-environment schemes until now, patches of bare ground should be implemented throughout grassland in order to prevent further decline of insectivorous farmland birds.
Understanding population dynamics requires accurate estimates of demographic rates. Integrated population models combine demographic and survey data into a single, comprehensive analysis and provide more coherent estimates of vital rates. Integrated population models rely on the assumption that different data sets are independent, which is frequently violated in practice. Moreover, the precision that can be gained using integrated modeling compared to conventional modeling is only known from empirical studies. The present study used simulation methods to assess how the violation of the assumption of independence affects the statistical properties of the parameter estimators. Further, the gains in precision and accuracy from the model were explored under varying sample sizes. For capture-recapture, population survey, and reproductive success, we generated independent and dependent data that were analyzed with integrated and conventional models. We found only a minimal impact of the violation of the assumption of independence on the parameter estimates. Furthermore, we observed an overall gain in precision and accuracy when all three data sets were analyzed simultaneously. This was particularly pronounced when the sample size was small. These findings contribute to clearing the way for the application of integrated population models in practice.
Since 1899 ringing (or banding) remained the most important source of information about migration routes, stopover sites and wintering grounds for birds that are too small to carry satellite-based tracking systems. Despite the large quantity of migrating birds ringed in their breeding areas in Europe, the number of ring recoveries from sub-Saharan Africa is very low and therefore the whereabouts of most small bird species outside the breeding season remain a mystery. With new miniaturized light-level geolocators it is now possible to look beyond the limits of ring recovery data. Here we show for the first time year round tracks of a near passerine trans-Saharan migrant, the European Hoopoe (Upupa epops epops). Three birds wintered in the Sahel zone of Western Africa where they remained stationary for most of the time. One bird chose a south-easterly route following the Italian peninsula. Birds from the same breeding population used different migration routes and wintering sites, suggesting a low level of migratory connectivity between breeding and wintering areas. Our tracking of a near passerine bird, the European Hoopoe, with light-level geolocators opens a new chapter in the research of Palaearctic-African bird migration as this new tool revolutionizes our ability to discover migration routes, stopover sites and wintering grounds of small birds.
Conservation of migratory wildlife requires knowledge of migratory connectivity between breeding and non-breeding locations. Stable isotopes in combination with geographical isotopic patterns (isoscapes) can provide inferences about migratory connectivity. This study examines whether such an approach can be used to infer wintering areas in sub-Saharan Africa, where we lack such knowledge for many species, but where this method has not been used widely. We measured ? (2)H, ? (13)C and ? (15)N in winter-grown feathers of a breeding Swiss and Spanish population of European hoopoe Upupa epops--a typical Palaearctic-Afrotropical migrant. ? (2)H values predicted that ~70 % of the hoopoes spent the non-breeding season in the western portion of their potential winter range. This was corroborated by a shallow east-west gradient in feather-? (2)H values of museum specimens from known African origin across the potential winter range and by the recovery of Swiss hoopoes marked with geolocators. Hoopoes categorized as from eastern versus western regions of the wintering range were further delineated spatially using feather ? (13)C and ? (15)N. ? (15)N showed no trend, whereas adults were more enriched in (13)C in the western portion of the range, with eastern adults being in addition more depleted in (13)C than eastern juveniles. This suggests that eastern juveniles may have occupied more xeric habitats than sympatric adults. We demonstrated that stable isotopes, especially ? (2)H, could only very roughly delineate the winter distribution of a trans-Saharan Palaearctic migrant restricted primarily to the Sahelian and savanna belt south of the Sahara. Further refinements of precipitation isoscapes for Africa as well the development of isoscapes for ? (13)C and ? (15)N may improve assignment of this and other migrants.
The grasshopper Oedaleus decorus is a thermophilic insect with a large, mostly south-Palaearctic distribution range, stretching from the Mediterranean regions in Europe to Central-Asia and China. In this study, we analyzed the extent of phylogenetic divergence and the recent evolutionary history of the species based on 274 specimens from 26 localities across the distribution range in Europe. Phylogenetic relationships were determined using sequences of two mitochondrial loci (ctr, ND2) with neighbour-joining and Bayesian methods. Additionally, genetic differentiation was analyzed based on mitochondrial DNA and 11 microsatellite markers using F-statistics, model-free multivariate and model-based Bayesian clustering approaches. Phylogenetic analyses detected consistently two highly divergent, allopatrically distributed lineages within O. decorus. The divergence among these Western and Eastern lineages meeting in the region of the Alps was similar to the divergence of each lineage to the sister species O. asiaticus. Genetic differentiation for ctr was extremely high between Western and Eastern grasshopper populations (F(ct)=0.95). Microsatellite markers detected much lower but nevertheless very significant genetic structure among population samples. The nuclear data also demonstrated a case of cytonuclear discordance because the affiliation with mitochondrial lineages was incongruent in Northern Italy. Taken together these results provide evidence of an ancient separation within Oedaleus and either historical introgression of mtDNA among lineages and/or ongoing sex-specific gene flow in this grasshopper. Our study stresses the importance of multilocus approaches for unravelling the history and status of taxa of uncertain evolutionary divergence.
Most butterfly monitoring protocols rely on counts along transects (Pollard walks) to generate species abundance indices and track population trends. It is still too often ignored that a population count results from two processes: the biological process (true abundance) and the statistical process (our ability to properly quantify abundance). Because individual detectability tends to vary in space (e.g., among sites) and time (e.g., among years), it remains unclear whether index counts truly reflect population sizes and trends. This study compares capture-mark-recapture (absolute abundance) and count-index (relative abundance) monitoring methods in three species (Maculinea nausithous and Iolana iolas: Lycaenidae; Minois dryas: Satyridae) in contrasted habitat types. We demonstrate that intraspecific variability in individual detectability under standard monitoring conditions is probably the rule rather than the exception, which questions the reliability of count-based indices to estimate and compare specific population abundance. Our results suggest that the accuracy of count-based methods depends heavily on the ecology and behavior of the target species, as well as on the type of habitat in which surveys take place. Monitoring programs designed to assess the abundance and trends in butterfly populations should incorporate a measure of detectability. We discuss the relative advantages and inconveniences of current monitoring methods and analytical approaches with respect to the characteristics of the species under scrutiny and resources availability.
Habitat restoration measures may result in artificially high breeding density, for instance when nest-boxes saturate the environment, which can negatively impact species demography. Potential risks include changes in mating and reproductive behaviour such as increased extra-pair paternity, conspecific brood parasitism, and polygyny. Under particular cicumstances, these mechanisms may disrupt reproduction, with populations dragged into an extinction vortex. With the use of nuclear microsatellite markers, we investigated the occurrence of these potentially negative effects in a recovered population of a rare secondary cavity-nesting farmland bird of Central Europe, the hoopoe (Upupa epops). High intensity farming in the study area has resulted in a total eradication of cavity trees, depriving hoopoes from breeding sites. An intensive nest-box campaign rectified this problem, resulting in a spectacular population recovery within a few years only. There was some concern, however, that the new, high artificially-induced breeding density might alter hoopoe mating and reproductive behaviour. As the species underwent a serious demographic bottleneck in the 1970-1990s, we also used the microsatellite markers to reconstitute the demo-genetic history of the population, looking in particular for signs of genetic erosion. We found i) a low occurrence of extra-pair paternity, polygyny and conspecific brood parasitism, ii) a high level of neutral genetic diversity (mean number of alleles and expected heterozygosity per locus: 13.8 and 83%, respectively) and, iii) evidence for genetic connectivity through recent immigration of individuals from well differentiated populations. The recent increase in breeding density did thus not induce so far any noticeable detrimental changes in mating and reproductive behaviour. The demographic bottleneck undergone by the population in the 1970s-1990s was furthermore not accompanied by any significant drop in neutral genetic diversity. Finally, genetic data converged with a concomitant demographic study to evidence that immigration strongly contributed to local population recovery.
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