Disentangling the spatial and temporal causes of decline in a bird population

Plard, Floriane; Arlettaz, Raphaël; Jacot, Alain; Schaub, Michael (2020). Disentangling the spatial and temporal causes of decline in a bird population. Ecology and evolution, 10(14), pp. 6906-6918. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 10.1002/ece3.6244

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The difficulties in understanding the underlying reasons of a population decline lie
in the typical short duration of field studies, the often too small size already reached by a declining population or the multitude of environmental factors that may influence population trend. In this difficult context, useful demographic tools such as integrated population models (IPM) may help disentangling the main reasons for a population decline. To understand why a hoopoe Upupa epops population has declined, we followed a three step model analysis. We built an IPM structured with respect to habitat quality (approximated by the expected availability of mole crickets, the main prey in our population) and estimated the contributions of habitat-specific demographic rates to population variation and decline. We quantified how much each demographic rate has decreased and investigated whether habitat quality influenced this decline. We tested how much weather conditions and research activities contributed to the decrease in the different demographic rates. The decline of the hoopoe population was mainly explained by a decrease in first-year apparent survival and a reduced number of fledglings produced, particularly in habitats of high quality. Since a majority of pairs bred in habitats of the highest quality, the decrease in the production of locally recruited yearlings in high-quality habitat was the main driver of
the population decline despite a homogeneous drop of recruitment across habitats. Overall, the explanatory variables we tested only accounted for 19% of the decrease in the population growth rate. Among these variables, the effects of spring temperature (49% of the explained variance) contributed more to population decline than spring precipitation (36%) and research activities (maternal capture delay, 15%). This study shows the power of IPMs for identifying the vital rates involved in population declines and thus paves the way for targeted conservation and management actions.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Ecology and Evolution (IEE) > Conservation Biology

UniBE Contributor:

Arlettaz, Raphaël and Jacot, Alain


500 Science > 570 Life sciences; biology
500 Science > 590 Animals (Zoology)




John Wiley & Sons, Inc.




Olivier Roth

Date Deposited:

14 Apr 2021 10:02

Last Modified:

14 Apr 2021 10:02

Publisher DOI:






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