Conservation of Scops Owl Otus scops in the Alps: relationships with grassland management, predation risk and wider biodiversity
The Scops Owl Otus scops is the most endangered and least studied owl in Europe, with widespread declines reported throughout Europe. The species is qualitatively associated with two threats: changes in agricultural practices and predation by Tawny Owls Strix aluco. We investigated these two threats to a population in the Alps, where land abandonment is causing widespread woodland expansion with unknown consequences. Predation risk and environmental indicators of the degree of agricultural change both predicted Scops Owl distribution. Furthermore, agricultural change also affected broader biodiversity, as estimated by the richness and diversity of bird and diurnal butterfly species. This resulted in a strong association between Scops Owl presence and wider biodiversity, which held at different spatial scales and justified a conservation focus on a single, threatened species. The persistence of Scops Owls in the Alps could be promoted through subsidies halting land abandonment and promoting extensive grassland management practices. Such interventions would have the additional advantage of yielding broader biodiversity benefits.
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