Determining the effects of habitat management and climate on the population trends of a declining steppe bird
The Little Bustard Tetrax tetrax is one of the most threatened steppe bird species in Europe, due mainly to agricultural intensification. Despite the relative importance of the Iberian population (approximately 50% of the global population) little is known about its dynamics and trends, especially in core distribution areas. This study evaluates the influences of meteorological factors and land management on the oscillations and medium-term trends of two Little Bustard populations in Central Spain. During 2001–2007, surveys of breeding male and female Little Bustards were carried out in two central Spanish locations: Valdetorres, in Special Protection Area (SPA) no. 139 (1600 ha), and Campo Real, in Important Bird Area (IBA) no. 075 (1150 ha). Densities were 3.3–4.0 and 1.1–2.1 males/km2 in Campo Real, and 1.8–2.2 and 0.6–1.3 females/km2 in Valdetorres. The sex ratio was biased towards males in both cases. Both populations declined during 2001–2007, especially in Valdetorres (60%). Variation in habitat composition did not explain variation in the numbers of males. Both populations were influenced by total precipitation in the preceding October–May period. Results suggest that the Little Bustard may be sensitive to future climate trends in Europe. Finally, different simulated demographic scenarios suggest that low female survival and productivity may be the immediate cause of the decline in Little Bustard populations, which is consistent with their sensitivity to climatic conditions.