Human-structures in sagebrush landscapes favor Common Raven nesting over historical hawk species
A new study by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and Idaho State University (ISU) explored how habitat alterations, including the addition of energy transmission towers, affect avian predators nesting in sagebrush landscapes.
Researchers compared nesting habitat selection between Common Ravens and three raptor species commonly found in sagebrush ecosystems: Red-tailed Hawks, Swainson's Hawks, and Ferruginous Hawks.
Using the data from their field research and reviewing historical data from other studies, the scientists developed models to predict nesting probabilities for each species. Overall, the analysis showed that transmission towers and other artificial substrates (e.g. cell towers, billboards, buildings) are overwhelmingly preferred by ravens as nesting sites, and are not preferred by any of the three hawk species. A nest located on artificial substrate is nearly 100 percent, 89.4 percent, and 87.1 percent more likely to be that of a raven than that of a Swainson's Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, and Ferruginous Hawk, respectively.
"Raven populations have increased precipitously in the past four decades in sagebrush ecosystems, largely as a result of fragmentation and development of anthropogenic structures. Our study shows that in addition to habitat fragmentation, the addition of human-made structures benefit ravens, whereas some species of raptors like the Ferruginous Hawk have been impacted and limited in nesting areas," said study lead author Peter Coates, an ecologist with the USGS Western Ecological Research Center.
Why the difference in nest selection between ravens and large hawks? The answer may be linked to the availability of preferred prey. "Ravens are opportunistic foragers, eating just about anything, including carrion. In addition, they tend to be highly intelligent birds that adapt quickly to changing environments and have been shown to transmit learned behaviors from one generation to the next. Conversely, hawks tend to be strongly territorial, intolerant of human disturbance, and prefer prey like jackrabbits that occupy similar habitats," said coauthor and USGS ecologist Kristy Howe, whose masters thesis research with WCS formed the foundation of this study.
The study took place on the sagebrush landscapes of the U.S. Department of Energy's Idaho site and surrounding areas in Idaho, USA, locating nest sites for all four species over a three year span. Researchers analyzed four primary factors that influence nest locations among species:
Ravens were classified as an uncommon breeder within this area as recently as 1986. Common Ravens are now the most pervasive predatory species nesting in this area, accounting for 46 percent of nests among these four avian predator species.
Transmission towers are the tallest objects at the study area. Nesting on or near them may afford ravens myriad advantages, including a wider range of vision, greater attack speed, and greater security from predators, range fires, and heat stress. While this is good news for ravens, it could be bad news for sensitive prey species, including the Greater Sage-Grouse.
Howe speculates on the study's other implications and directions for future research: "Since ravens are important predators of young birds and eggs, and hawks are predominantly predators of adults, these landscape changes could shift ecosystem dynamics. Predation risk would now likely be greater for sage-grouse eggs and young, and correspondingly lower for adult sage-grouse and other prey species. This adds new insights for ecosystem managers who seek to understand the complex relationships between ravens, hawks, sage-grouse populations, and habitat changes."
"Increases in Common Raven distribution and abundance in the American west mirror declines in distribution and abundance of Greater Sage-Grouse, where energy transmission corridors and other land use changes have altered sagebrush steppe habitat", said David Delehanty of ISU.
"Industrial development, wildfires, invasive plant species, and other disturbances are changing sagebrush landscapes throughout the western United States. Our results shed light on how these avian predators might change with them," said Coates of USGS.
The study, "Landscape alterations influence differential habitat use of nesting Buteos and ravens within sagebrush ecosystem: Implications for transmission line development," will appear in the August 2014 print issue of the journal The Condor.(This study is currently online.) Authors include Kristy Howe of WCS and USGS, Peter Coates and Michael L. Casazza of the USGS, and David Delehanty of ISU.
For additional information on this story, or to speak with the scientists involved, please contact Scott Smith at 718-220-3698.
Additional Study Results
Scott Smith | Eurek Alert!
Dune ecosystem modelling
23.06.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau
Understanding animal social networks can aid wildlife conservation
23.06.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)
An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine
Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
23.06.2017 | Information Technology