Increased songbird nest depredation due to Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis) encroachment in Mediterranean shrubland

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Abstract

Background: In recent decades, a decrease of passerine densities was documented in Mediterranean shrublands. At the same time, a widespread encroachment of Aleppo pines (Pinus halepensis) to Mediterranean shrubland occurred. Such changes in vegetation structure may affect passerine predator assemblage and densities, and in turn impact passerine densities. Depredation during the nesting season is an important factor to influence passerine population size. Understanding the effects of changes in vegetation structure (pine encroachment) on passerine nesting success is the main objective of this study. We do so by assessing the effects of Aleppo pine encroachment on Sardinian warbler (Sylvia melanocephala) nest depredation in Mediterranean shrublands. We examined direct and indirect predation pressures through a gradients of pine density, using four methods: (1) placing dummy nests; (2) acoustic monitoring of mobbing events; (3) direct observations on nest predation using cameras; and (4) observation of Eurasian jay (Garrulus glandarius) behaviour as indirect evidence of predation risk. Results: We found that Aleppo pine encroachment to Mediterranean shrublands increased nest predation by Eurasian jays. Nest predation was highest in mixed shrubland and pines. These areas are suitable for warblers but had high occurrence rate of Eurasian jays. Conclusions: Encroaching pines directly increase activity of Eurasian jays in shrubland habitats, which reduced the nesting success of Sardinian warblers. These findings are supported by multiple methodologies, illustrating different predation pressures along a gradient of pine densities in natural shrublands. Management of Aleppo pine seedlings and removal of unwanted trees in natural shrubland might mitigate arrival and expansion of predators and decrease the predation pressure on passerine nests.

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Ben-David, A., Shamon, H., Izhaki, I., Efronny, R., Maor, R., & Dayan, T. (2019). Increased songbird nest depredation due to Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis) encroachment in Mediterranean shrubland. BMC Ecology, 19(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12898-019-0270-8

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