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Burgess M.D.,University of Reading | Nicoll M.A.C.,University of Reading | Jones C.G.,Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust | Norris K.,University of Reading
Journal of Animal Ecology | Year: 2011

1.Spatial variation in habitat quality and its demographic consequences have important implications for the regulation of animal populations. Theoretically, habitat quality is typically viewed as a single gradient from 'poor' to 'good', but in wild populations it is possible that there are multiple environmental gradients that determine spatial variation in demography. 2.Understanding environmental gradients is important to gain mechanistic insights into important population processes, but also to understand how populations might respond to environmental change. Here, we explore habitat and elevation gradients and their implications for population persistence using detailed long-term data on 600 individuals of the Mauritius kestrel. These data allow us to statistically separate spatial variation in demography from variation arising out of individual or environmental quality and explore its relationships with habitat and topography. 3.Birds that breed earlier in the season have higher reproductive success, and we found that the timing of breeding varies significantly between territories. This variation is primarily driven by elevation, with birds breeding progressively later as elevation increases. 4.Pre-fledging survival from the egg to fledgling stage (independently of timing), and recruitment, also varied significantly between territories. This variation is driven by the habitat surrounding breeding sites with increasing agricultural encroachment causing survival and recruitment to decline. 5.Taken together, our results suggest that there are likely to be multiple environmental gradients affecting spatial variation in productivity in wild populations, and hence multiple and different routes through which environmental change might have consequences for population dynamics by modifying spatial processes. © 2011 The Authors. Journal of Animal Ecology © 2011 British Ecological Society.

Senapathi D.,University of Reading | Nicoll M.A.C.,University of Reading | Teplitsky C.,French Natural History Museum | Jones C.G.,Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust | Norris K.,University of Reading
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences | Year: 2011

There is growing evidence of changes in the timing of important ecological events, such as flowering in plants and reproduction in animals, in response to climate change, with implications for population decline and biodiversity loss. Recent work has shown that the timing of breeding in wild birds is changing in response to climate change partly because individuals are remarkably flexible in their timing of breeding. Despite this work, our understanding of these processes in wild populations remains very limited and biased towards species from temperate regions. Here, we report the response to changing climate in a tropical wild bird population using a long-term dataset on a formerly critically endangered island endemic, the Mauritius kestrel. We show that the frequency of spring rainfall affects the timing of breeding, with birds breeding later in wetter springs. Delays in breeding have consequences in terms of reduced reproductive success as birds get exposed to risks associated with adverse climatic conditions later on in the breeding season, which reduce nesting success. These results, combined with the fact that frequency of spring rainfall has increased by about 60 per cent in our study area since 1962, imply that climate change is exposing birds to the stochastic risks of late reproduction by causing them to start breeding relatively late in the season. © 2011 The Royal Society.

Nevoux M.,University of Reading | Gimenez O.,CNRS Center of Evolutionary and Functional Ecology | Arlt D.,University of Reading | Nicoll M.,University of Reading | And 2 more authors.
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences | Year: 2011

Spatial patterns of site occupancy are commonly driven by habitat heterogeneity and are thought to shape population dynamics through a site-dependent regulatory mechanism. When examining this, however, most studies have only focused on a single vital rate (reproduction), and little is known about how s pace effectively contributes to the regulation of population dynamics. We investigated the underlying mechanisms driving density- dependent processes in vital rates in a Mauritius kestrel population where almost every individual was monitored. Different mechanisms acted on different vital rates, with breeding success regulated by site dependence (differential use of space) and juvenile survival by interference (density-dependent competition for resources). Although territorial species are frequently assumed to be regulated through site dependence, we show that interference was the key regulatory mechanism in this population. Our integrated approach demonstrates that the presence of spatial processes regarding one trait does not mean that they necessarily play an important role in regulating population growth, and demonstrates the complexity of the regulatory process. © 2011 The Royal Society.

Brown D.S.,University of Cardiff | Burger R.,University of Cardiff | Cole N.,Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust | Vencatasamy D.,Mauritian Wildlife Foundation | And 3 more authors.
Molecular Ecology | Year: 2014

Re-introduction of rare species to parts of their historical range is becoming increasingly important as a conservation strategy. Telfair's Skinks (Leiolopisma telfairii), once widespread on Mauritius, were until recently found only on Round Island. There it is vulnerable to stochastic events, including the introduction of alien predators that may either prey upon it or compete for food resources. Consequently, skinks have been introduced to Ile aux Aigrettes, another small Mauritian island that has been cleared of rats. However, the island has been invaded by Asian Musk Shrews (Suncus murinus), a commensal species spread by man well beyond its natural Asian range. Our aim was to use next-generation sequencing to analyse the diets of the shrews and skinks to look for niche competition. DNA was extracted from skink faeces and from the stomach contents of shrews. Application of shrew- and skink-specific primers revealed no mutual predation. The DNA was then amplified using general invertebrate primers with tags to identify individual predators, and then sequenced by 454 pyrosequencing. 119 prey MOTUs (molecular taxonomic units) were isolated, although none could be identified to species. Seeding of cladograms with known sequences allowed higher taxonomic assignments in some cases. Although most MOTUs were not shared by shrews and skinks, Pianka's niche overlap test showed significant prey overlap, suggesting potentially strong competition where food resources are limited. These results suggest that removal of the shrews from the island should remain a priority. © 2013 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Kundu S.,University of Kent | Jones C.G.,Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust | Prys-Jones R.P.,Bird Group | Groombridge J.J.,University of Kent
Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution | Year: 2012

Parrots are among the most recognisable and widely distributed of all bird groups occupying major parts of the tropics. The evolution of the genera that are found in and around the Indian Ocean region is particularly interesting as they show a high degree of heterogeneity in distribution and levels of speciation. Here we present a molecular phylogenetic analysis of Indian Ocean parrots, identifying the possible geological and geographical factors that influenced their evolution. We hypothesise that the Indian Ocean islands acted as stepping stones in the radiation of the Old-World parrots, and that sea-level changes may have been an important determinant of current distributions and differences in speciation. A multi-locus phylogeny showing the evolutionary relationships among genera highlights the interesting position of the monotypic Psittrichas, which shares a common ancestor with the geographically distant Coracopsis. An extensive species-level molecular phylogeny indicates a complex pattern of radiation including evidence for colonisation of Africa, Asia and the Indian Ocean islands from Australasia via multiple routes, and of island populations 'seeding' continents. Moreover, comparison of estimated divergence dates and sea-level changes points to the latter as a factor in parrot speciation. This is the first study to include the extinct parrot taxa, Mascarinus mascarinus and Psittacula wardi which, respectively, appear closely related to Coracopsis nigra and Psittacula eupatria. © 2011 Elsevier Inc.

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