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The effect of habitat complexity on the functional response of a seed-eating passerine

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Abstract:

Recent population declines of seed-eating farmland birds have been associated with reduced overwinter survival due to reductions in food supply. An important component of predicting how food shortages will affect animal populations is to measure the functional response, i.e. the relationship between food density and feeding rate, over the range of environmental conditions experienced by foraging animals. Crop stubble fields are an important foraging habitat for many species of seed-eating farmland bird. However, some important questions remain regarding farmland bird foraging behaviour in this habitat, and in particular the effect of stubble on farmland bird functional responses is unknown. We measured the functional responses of a seed-eating passerine, the Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs, consuming seeds placed on the substrate surface in three different treatments: bare soil, low density stubble and high density stubble. Stubble presence significantly reduced feeding rates, but there was no significant difference between the two stubble treatments. Stubble reduced feeding rates by reducing the maximum attack distance, i.e. the distance over which an individual food item is targeted and consumed. The searching speed, handling time per seed, proportion of time spent vigilant, duration of vigilance bouts and duration of head-down search periods were unaffected by the presence of stubble. The frequency of vigilance bouts was higher in the bare soil treatment, but this is likely to be a consequence of the increased feeding rate. We show the influence of a key habitat type on the functional response of a seed-eating passerine, and discuss the consequences of this for farmland bird conservation.

Keywords: Chaffinch; Fringilla coelebs; agriculture; foraging behaviour; stubble

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1474-919X.2009.00941.x

Affiliations: 1: School of Conservation Sciences, Bournemouth University, Talbot Campus, Poole, Dorset BH12 5BB, UK 2: Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Maclean Building, Benson Lane, Crowmarsh Gifford, Wallingford, Oxfordshire, OX10 8BB, UK

Publication date: 2009-07-01

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