Testing the goodness of supplementary feeding to enhance population viability in an endangered vulture

  • Oro D
  • Margalida A
  • Carrete M
 et al. 
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Abstract

BACKGROUND: Human-predator conflicts are directly or indirectly threatening many species with extinction. Thus, biologists are urged to find simple solutions to complex situations while avoiding unforeseen conservation outcomes. The provision of supplementary food at artificial feeding sites (AFS) is frequently used in the conservation of scavenger bird populations currently suffering from indirect poisoning, although no scientific studies on its effectiveness have been conducted. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: We used a long-term data set of 95 individually marked birds from the largest European core of the endangered bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) to test the long-term effects of specific AFS for bearded vultures on their survival rates (by CMR models) and population dynamics (by Monte Carlo simulations) in an area where fatalities derived from illegal poisoning and the use of other toxics like veterinary drugs have increased over the last several years. Our data support the positive relationship between the use of AFS and survival. However, contrary to theoretical predictions (e.g. high and more stable adult survival among long-lived species), the use of AFS increased only survival of pre-adults. Moreover, AFS buffered the effects of illegal poisoning on this age-class, while adult survival decreased over years. Our simulations predicted a maximum value of extinction probability over a time horizon of 50 years. Population projections run with survival rates expected in scenarios without poisoning predicted the situation of least conservation concern, while including only AFS can maintain a large floater surplus that may delay population decline but fails to reduce poisoning risk among adults. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: Although AFS are not effective to save bearded vultures from an expected population decline, they delay population extinction and can be a useful tool for prolonging population viability while combating illegal and indirect poisoning. The eradication of different sources of poisoning is of top priority to ensure the long-term viability of this and many other species.

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