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Prey availability influences habitat tolerance: an explanation for the rarity of peregrine falcons in the tropics

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The density and productivity of peregrine falcon Falco peregrinus populations correlate positively with distance from the Equator, while habitat specificity increases with proximity to the Equator. Low peregrine densities in the tropics may be a result of competition with similar congeners (e.g. the lanner falcon F. biarmicus in Africa), which replace them in many areas. Alternatively, tropical peregrines may be limited by resource deficiencies that do not affect their close relatives. Data from peregrine and lanner populations in South Africa support the resource deficiency hypothesis, and there is no evidence to suggest direct competition between the two species. In areas where prey are not spatially or temporally concentrated, or otherwise particularly vulnerable to attack, morphological and behavioural specializations of peregrines probably restrict them to optimal foraging conditions. The relative dynamics of Arctic and temperate vs tropical prey populations is suggested as an important factor determining peregrine distribution globally. Populations of other widespread but particularly specialized avian predators (e.g. osprey Pandion haliaetus) may be similarly controlled. Food limitation (in terms of a dearth of particularly vulnerable prey) in the tropics has resulted in specialization and rarity in peregrines and generalization and relative abundance in similar congeners.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2001

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