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Effect of abiotic factors on reproduction in the centre and periphery of breeding ranges: a comparative analysis in sympatric harriers

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Variables such as weather or other abiotic factors should have a higher influence on demographic rates in border areas than in central areas, given that climatic adaptation might be important in determining range borders. Similarly, for a given area, the relationship between weather and reproduction should be dissimilar for species which are in the centre of their breeding range and those that are near the edge. We tested this hypothesis on two sympatric ground-nesting raptors, the hen harrier Circus cyaneus and the Montagu's harrier Circus pygargus in Madrid, central Spain, where the hen harrier is at the southern edge of its breeding range in the western Palearctic and the Montagu's harrier is central in its distribution. We examined the reproductive success of both species during an 8-yr period, and looked at the influence of the most stressful abiotic factors in the study area (between-year variation in rainfall and within-year variation in temperature) on reproductive parameters.

In the hen harrier, low levels of rainfall during the breeding season had a negative influence on annual fledging success and thus on population fledgling production. The relationship between rainfall and reproduction was probably mediated through food abundance, which in Mediterranean habitat depends directly on rainfall levels. In the Montagu's harrier, no negative effect of dry seasons on productivity was found. Additionally, in the hen harrier, the proportion of eggs that did not hatch in each clutch increased with higher temperatures during the incubation period. No such relationship was found in the Montagu's harrier. We interpret these between-species differences in terms of differences of breeding range and adaptations to the average conditions existing there. Hen harriers, commonest at northern latitudes, are probably best adapted to the most typical conditions at those latitudes, and have probably not developed thermoregulatory or behavioural mechanisms to cope with drought and high temperatures in Mediterranean habitats, in contrast to Montagu's harrier. Thus hen harrier distribution might be constrained by these variables, due to lower reproductive success or higher reproductive costs. Accordingly, a logistic regression analysis of the presence or absence of both species in 289 random points throughout the western Palearctic showed that the distribution of both species was related to temperature, but the relationship was in opposite directions for the two species: hen harriers had lower probability of breeding in areas with higher temperature (as expected in a species with a more northerly distribution).
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 2001

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