Are salinas a suitable alternative breeding habitat for Little Terns Sterna albifrons?

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Abstract:

This paper describes the breeding population, breeding habitats and reproductive variables of Little Terns Sterna albifrons in natural (sandy beaches) and alternative (salinas) habitats. Studies of nesting success conducted between 1998 and 2002 in these two types of habitat were combined with a literature review of census work from the past 30 years in order to assess whether salinas are suitable alternative breeding habitat for Little Terns. Most of the Portuguese Little Tern population now breeds in salinas. Census data from the last 30 years show that this is a recent breeding behaviour, because until the 1990s most colonies were located on sandy beaches. Destruction and disturbance of the natural habitat has caused this habitat shift. Despite this shift, the Portuguese Little Tern breeding population did not decline during this period and no significant differences were found in nesting success between natural and alternative habitats. This might indicate that salinas are a suitable alternative breeding habitat for Little Terns, but differences in laying period, clutch size and egg size were recorded between birds nesting on sandy beaches and in salinas in the same area. Birds nested earlier on sandy beaches and laid larger clutches and eggs than in salinas. These data suggest that, when both habitats are available, older and/or higher quality birds prefer sandy beaches for breeding, presumably trying to re-nest in salinas when first breeding attempts failed. We discuss conservation priorities and management actions for both habitats.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1046/j.1474-919X.2004.00254.x

Affiliations: 1: IMAR – Institute of Marine Research, Departamento de Zoologia, Universidade de Coimbra, 3004-517 Coimbra, Portugal 2: Rua de Campolide 215 4° Dto, 1070-030 Lisboa, Portugal 3: Rua Hermano Neves 2-2°B, 1600-477 Lisboa, Portugal 4: Ria Formosa Natural Park, Quinta do Marim, Quelfes, 8700 Olhão, Portugal

Publication date: April 1, 2004

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