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Black Rats, Island Characteristics, and Colonial Nesting Birds in the Mediterranean: Consequences of an Ancient Introduction

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The devastation of island faunas by alien species has been instrumental in raising concerns about the global threat to biological diversity. Colonial nesting species, often restricted to islands, have been affected severely. Eradication of introduced species as a means to alleviate the problem is usually done with little or no understanding of the mechanisms governing interactions between introduced and native species. Such an understanding could help target management action. We analyzed how island area, rock substrate, bird species biology, and presence of an introduced species, the black rat (  Rattus rattus), interact to explain the distribution and abundance of colonial nesting birds on a set of 72 islands from six archipelagos in the western Mediterranean. Rats were introduced to this region over 2000 years ago, and these communities have had time to reach an equilibrium. Using general linear models, we show that rats have affected species distributions more on the smaller islands and on islands with an acidic or neutral rock substrate; larger bird species are more resistant. On the smaller islands, where rat densities are highest, larger colonial birds are negatively affected. On larger islands, where rat densities are lower and fluctuate form year to year, larger colonial birds can maintain healthy populations despite the presence of rats. Although rats caused local extinction or reduction in bird abundance, the presence of islands varying in size and/or substrate allowed most archipelagos to retain their suite of colonial nesting bird species, despite a presumably reduced abundance for most species.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Centre d'Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive/Centre Nacional de la Recherche Scientifique, 1919 route de Mende, F-34293 Montpellier Cedex 5, France 2: Parc Naturel Régional de Corse, rue Major Lambroschini, B.P. 417, F-20184 Ajaccio, Corsica 3: Centre d'Etudes Biologiques de Chizé/Centre Nacional de la Recherche Scientifique 4701, F-79360 Beauvoir-sur-Niort

Publication date: October 1, 2000

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