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!
Upcycling 'fast fashion' to reduce waste and pollution
03.04.2017 | American Chemical Society
Litter is present throughout the world’s oceans: 1,220 species affected
27.03.2017 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung
More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.
Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...
Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.
"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
28.04.2017 | Event News
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering
28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences
28.04.2017 | Life Sciences