Inclusion of past, in addition to current ecological conditions can improve the realism of animal-habitat models, because populations may show delayed responses to changing environments. We studied the relationships between the distribution of barn swallows (Hirundo rustica L.) in 2001 and ecological factors between 1986 and 2001. Livestock farming was the best predictor of swallow distribution. Maximum predictive power of swallow abundance was achieved by livestock farming data 7 years before the census and significantly earlier than 2001, as shown by a bootstrap analysis. Breeding philopatry, social facilitation of breeding habitat choice may delay response of barn swallow populations to rapidly changing ecological conditions in anthropogenic habitats. By bootstrapping the set of farms and applying our predictive distribution models to livestock farming data in the past and those predicted for the near future we forecast no significant change in swallow populations until 2015. This study suggests that population studies should incorporate historical ecological data.
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