Interactive influences of fluctuations of main food resources and climate change on long-term population decline of Tengmalm's owls in the boreal forest
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Recent wildlife population declines are usually attributed to multiple sources such as global climate change and habitat loss and degradation inducing decreased food supply. However, interactive effects of fluctuations in abundance of main foods and weather conditions on population densities and reproductive success have been studied rarely. We analysed long-term (1973-2018) data on Tengmalm’s owl (Aegoliusfunereus) and the influence of prey abundance and weather on breeding densities and reproductive success in western Finland. We found that fledgling production per breeding attempt declined and laying date of the owl population delayed during the period between 1973 and 2018. The breeding density of the owl population decreased with increasing temperature in winter (October-March), fledgling production increased with increasing temperature and precipitation in spring (April-June), whereas the initiation of egg-laying was delayed with increasing depth of snow cover in late winter (January-March). The decreasing trend of fledgling production, which was mainly due to starvation of offspring, was an important factor contributing to the long-term decline of the Tengmalm’s owl study population. Milder and more humid spring and early summer temperatures due to global warming were not able to compensate for lowered offspring production of owls. The main reason for low productivity is probably loss and degradation of mature and old-growth forests due to clear-felling which results in loss of coverage of prime habitat for main (bank voles) and alternative foods (small birds) of owls inducing lack of food, and refuges against predators of Tengmalm’s owls. This interpretation was also supported by the delayed start of egg-laying during the study period although ambient temperatures increased prior to and during the egg-laying period.
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