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1.  Promoting Pollinating Insects in Intensive Agricultural Matrices: Field-Scale Experimental Manipulation of Hay-Meadow Mowing Regimes and Its Effects on Bees 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):e85635.
Bees are a key component of biodiversity as they ensure a crucial ecosystem service: pollination. This ecosystem service is nowadays threatened, because bees suffer from agricultural intensification. Yet, bees rarely benefit from the measures established to promote biodiversity in farmland, such as agri-environment schemes (AES). We experimentally tested if the spatio-temporal modification of mowing regimes within extensively managed hay meadows, a widespread AES, can promote bees. We applied a randomized block design, replicated 12 times across the Swiss lowlands, that consisted of three different mowing treatments: 1) first cut not before 15 June (conventional regime for meadows within Swiss AES); 2) first cut not before 15 June, as treatment 1 but with 15% of area left uncut serving as a refuge; 3) first cut not before 15 July. Bees were collected with pan traps, twice during the vegetation season (before and after mowing). Wild bee abundance and species richness significantly increased in meadows where uncut refuges were left, in comparison to meadows without refuges: there was both an immediate (within year) and cumulative (from one year to the following) positive effect of the uncut refuge treatment. An immediate positive effect of delayed mowing was also evidenced in both wild bees and honey bees. Conventional AES could easily accommodate such a simple management prescription that promotes farmland biodiversity and is likely to enhance pollination services.
PMCID: PMC3887108  PMID: 24416434
2.  Management Intensity and Topography Determined Plant Diversity in Vineyards 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e76167.
Vineyards are amongst the most intensive forms of agriculture often resulting in simplified landscapes where semi-natural vegetation is restricted to small scattered patches. However, a tendency toward a more sustainable management is stimulating research on biodiversity in these poorly investigated agro-ecosystems. The main aim of this study was to test the effect on plant diversity of management intensity and topography in vineyards located in a homogenous intensive hilly landscape. Specifically, this study evaluated the role of slope, mowing and herbicide treatments frequency, and nitrogen supply in shaping plant diversity and composition of life-history traits. The study was carried out in 25 vineyards located in the area of the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene DOCG (Veneto, NE Italy). In each vineyard, 10 plots were placed and the abundance of all vascular plants was recorded in each plot. Linear multiple regression was used to test the effect of management and topography on plant diversity. Management intensity and topography were both relevant drivers of plant species diversity patterns in our vineyards. The two most important factors were slope and mowing frequency that respectively yielded positive and negative effects on plant diversity. A significant interaction between these two factors was also demonstrated, warning against the detrimental effects of increasing mowing intensity on steep slope where plant communities are more diverse. The response of plant communities to mowing frequency is mediated by a process of selection of resistant growth forms, such in the case of rosulate and reptant species. The other two management-related factors tested in this study, number of herbicide treatments and N fertilization, were less influential. In general, our study corroborates the idea that some simple changes in farming activities, which are compatible with grape production, should be encouraged for improving the natural and cultural value of the landscape by maintaining and improving wild plant diversity.
PMCID: PMC3788025  PMID: 24098435
3.  Validating Predictions from Climate Envelope Models 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(5):e63600.
Climate envelope models are a potentially important conservation tool, but their ability to accurately forecast species’ distributional shifts using independent survey data has not been fully evaluated. We created climate envelope models for 12 species of North American breeding birds previously shown to have experienced poleward range shifts. For each species, we evaluated three different approaches to climate envelope modeling that differed in the way they treated climate-induced range expansion and contraction, using random forests and maximum entropy modeling algorithms. All models were calibrated using occurrence data from 1967–1971 (t1) and evaluated using occurrence data from 1998–2002 (t2). Model sensitivity (the ability to correctly classify species presences) was greater using the maximum entropy algorithm than the random forest algorithm. Although sensitivity did not differ significantly among approaches, for many species, sensitivity was maximized using a hybrid approach that assumed range expansion, but not contraction, in t2. Species for which the hybrid approach resulted in the greatest improvement in sensitivity have been reported from more land cover types than species for which there was little difference in sensitivity between hybrid and dynamic approaches, suggesting that habitat generalists may be buffered somewhat against climate-induced range contractions. Specificity (the ability to correctly classify species absences) was maximized using the random forest algorithm and was lowest using the hybrid approach. Overall, our results suggest cautious optimism for the use of climate envelope models to forecast range shifts, but also underscore the importance of considering non-climate drivers of species range limits. The use of alternative climate envelope models that make different assumptions about range expansion and contraction is a new and potentially useful way to help inform our understanding of climate change effects on species.
PMCID: PMC3662712  PMID: 23717452
4.  The 50 Most Important Questions Relating to the Maintenance and Restoration of an Ecological Continuum in the European Alps 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e53139.
The European Alps harbour a unique and species-rich biodiversity, which is increasingly impacted by habitat fragmentation through land-use changes, urbanization and expanding transport infrastructure. In this study, we identified the 50 most important questions relating to the maintenance and restoration of an ecological continuum – the connectedness of ecological processes across many scales including trophic relationship and disturbance processes and hydro-ecological flows in the European Alps. We initiated and implemented a trans-national priority setting exercise, inviting 48 institutions including researchers, conservation practitioners, NGOs, policymakers and administrators from the Alpine region. The exercise was composed of an initial call for pertinent questions, a first online evaluation of the received questions and a final discussion and selection process during a joint workshop. The participating institutions generated 484 initial questions, which were condensed to the 50 most important questions by 16 workshop participants. We suggest new approaches in tackling the issue of an ecological continuum in the Alps by analysing and classifying the characteristics of the resulting questions in a non-prioritized form as well as in a visual conceptualisation of the inter-dependencies among these questions. This priority setting exercise will support research and funding institutions in channelling their capacities and resources towards questions that need to be urgently addressed in order to facilitate significant progress in biodiversity conservation in the European Alps.
PMCID: PMC3544812  PMID: 23341928
5.  Eggshell Spottiness Reflects Maternally Transferred Antibodies in Blue Tits 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e50389.
Blue-green and brown-spotted eggshells in birds have been proposed as sexual signals of female physiological condition and egg quality, reflecting maternal investment in the egg. Testing this hypothesis requires linking eggshell coloration to egg content, which is lacking for brown protoporphyrin-based pigmentation. As protoporphyrins can induce oxidative stress, and a large amount in eggshells should indicate either high female and egg quality if it reflects the female's high oxidative tolerance, or conversely poor quality if it reflects female physiological stress. Different studies supported either predictions but are difficult to compare given the methodological differences in eggshell-spottiness measurements. Using the blue tit Cyanistes caeruleus as a model species, we aimed at disentangling both predictions in testing if brown-spotted eggshell could reflect the quality of maternal investment in antibodies and carotenoids in the egg, and at improving between-study comparisons in correlating several common measurements of eggshell coloration (spectral and digital measures, spotted surface, pigmentation indices). We found that these color variables were weakly correlated highlighting the need for comparable quantitative measurements between studies and for multivariate regressions incorporating several eggshell-color characteristics. When evaluating the potential signaling function of brown-spotted eggshells, we thus searched for the brown eggshell-color variables that best predicted the maternal transfer of antibodies and carotenoids to egg yolks. We also tested the effects of several parental traits and breeding parameters potentially affecting this transfer. While eggshell coloration did not relate to yolk carotenoids, the eggs with larger and less evenly-distributed spots had higher antibody concentrations, suggesting that both the quantity and distribution of brown pigments reflected the transfer of maternal immune compounds in egg yolks. As yolk antibody concentrations were also positively related to key proxies of maternal quality (egg volume, number, yellow feather brightness, tarsus length), eggshells with larger spots concentrated at their broad pole may indicate higher-quality eggs.
PMCID: PMC3511563  PMID: 23226272
6.  Demographic Consequences of Poison-Related Mortality in a Threatened Bird of Prey 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e49187.
Evidence for decline or threat of wild populations typically comes from multiple sources and methods that allow optimal integration of the available information, representing a major advance in planning management actions. We used integrated population modelling and perturbation analyses to assess the demographic consequences of the illegal use of poison for an insular population of Red Kites, Milvus milvus. We first pooled into a single statistical framework the annual census of breeding pairs, the available individual-based data, the average productivity and the number of birds admitted annually to the local rehabilitation centre. By combining these four types of information we were able to increase estimate precision and to obtain an estimate of the proportion of breeding adults, an important parameter that was not directly measured in the field and that is often difficult to assess. Subsequently, we used perturbation analyses to measure the expected change in the population growth rate due to a change in poison-related mortality. We found that poison accounted for 0.43 to 0.76 of the total mortality, for yearlings and older birds, respectively. Results from the deterministic population model indicated that this mortality suppressed the population growth rate by 20%. Despite this, the population was estimated to increase, albeit slowly. This positive trend was likely maintained by a very high productivity (1.83 fledglings per breeding pair) possibly promoted by supplementary feeding, a situation which is likely to be common to many large obligate or facultative European scavengers. Under this hypothetical scenario of double societal costs (poisoning of a threatened species and feeding programs), increasing poison control would help to lower the public cost of maintaining supplementary feeding stations.
PMCID: PMC3498344  PMID: 23155464
7.  The Population Decline of Gyps Vultures in India and Nepal Has Slowed since Veterinary Use of Diclofenac was Banned 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e49118.
Populations of oriental white-backed vulture (Gyps bengalensis), long-billed vulture (Gyps indicus) and slender-billed vulture (Gyps tenuirostris) crashed during the mid-1990s throughout the Indian subcontinent. Surveys in India, initially conducted in 1991–1993 and repeated in 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2007, revealed that the population of Gyps bengalensis had fallen by 2007 to 0.1% of its numbers in the early 1990s, with the population of Gyps indicus and G. tenuirostris combined having fallen to 3.2% of its earlier level. A survey of G. bengalensis in western Nepal indicated that the size of the population in 2009 was 25% of that in 2002. In this paper, repeat surveys conducted in 2011 were analysed to estimate recent population trends. Populations of all three species of vulture remained at a low level, but the decline had slowed and may even have reversed for G. bengalensis, both in India and Nepal. However, estimates of the most recent population trends are imprecise, so it is possible that declines may be continuing, though at a significantly slower rate. The degree to which the decline of G. bengalensis in India has slowed is consistent with the expected effects on population trend of a measured change in the level of contamination of ungulate carcasses with the drug diclofenac, which is toxic to vultures, following a ban on its veterinary use in 2006. The most recent available information indicates that the elimination of diclofenac from the vultures’ food supply is incomplete, so further efforts are required to fully implement the ban.
PMCID: PMC3492300  PMID: 23145090
8.  Solving a Migration Riddle Using Isoscapes: House Martins from a Dutch Village Winter over West Africa 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e45005.
The ability to connect breeding, stopover and wintering locations of populations of migratory birds greatly enhances our understanding of the phenomenon of migration and improves our chances of effectively conserving these species. Among Palearctic-Afrotropical migratory species, aerial insectivores like the house martin (Delichon urbicum) are sensitive to factors influencing the availability of flying insects, and have declined in recent decades. The strict aerial behaviour of martins severely limits ring recoveries on wintering grounds and so there is a dearth of information on where European breeding populations over-winter in Africa, and the relative effects of population regulation on breeding vs. wintering grounds. We used a newly developed multi-isotope (δ2H, δ13C, δ15N) feather isoscape for Africa together with inferences from summarized ring return data based on longitude, to assign winter origins to birds captured at a breeding colony in The Netherlands.
Principal Findings
Based on isotopic analyses of winter-grown martin feathers, we used a likelihood-based assignment approach to describe potential wintering locations where molt occurred of individual house martins from a Dutch colony by assigning them to four potential isotopically distinct clusters in Africa. We found the overwhelming majority of Dutch martins were assigned to a geographical cluster associated with West Africa.
The existence of strong isotopic gradients and patterns in African foodwebs that support migratory wildlife allows for the spatial assignment of tissues grown there. The assignment of Dutch house martins to wintering grounds primarily in West Africa was in strong agreement with independent and indirect methods used to infer winter origins of this species based on the association between the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) in Africa and population patterns in Italy and the United Kingdom. These confirmatory data-sets underscore the importance of suitable habitats in West Africa to the conservation of migratory aerial insectivores and other species.
PMCID: PMC3448620  PMID: 23028734
9.  Monitoring Butterfly Abundance: Beyond Pollard Walks 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e41396.
Most butterfly monitoring protocols rely on counts along transects (Pollard walks) to generate species abundance indices and track population trends. It is still too often ignored that a population count results from two processes: the biological process (true abundance) and the statistical process (our ability to properly quantify abundance). Because individual detectability tends to vary in space (e.g., among sites) and time (e.g., among years), it remains unclear whether index counts truly reflect population sizes and trends. This study compares capture-mark-recapture (absolute abundance) and count-index (relative abundance) monitoring methods in three species (Maculinea nausithous and Iolana iolas: Lycaenidae; Minois dryas: Satyridae) in contrasted habitat types. We demonstrate that intraspecific variability in individual detectability under standard monitoring conditions is probably the rule rather than the exception, which questions the reliability of count-based indices to estimate and compare specific population abundance. Our results suggest that the accuracy of count-based methods depends heavily on the ecology and behavior of the target species, as well as on the type of habitat in which surveys take place. Monitoring programs designed to assess the abundance and trends in butterfly populations should incorporate a measure of detectability. We discuss the relative advantages and inconveniences of current monitoring methods and analytical approaches with respect to the characteristics of the species under scrutiny and resources availability.
PMCID: PMC3408444  PMID: 22859980
10.  Frequent Arousal from Hibernation Linked to Severity of Infection and Mortality in Bats with White-Nose Syndrome 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(6):e38920.
White-nose syndrome (WNS), an emerging infectious disease that has killed over 5.5 million hibernating bats, is named for the causative agent, a white fungus (Geomyces destructans (Gd)) that invades the skin of torpid bats. During hibernation, arousals to warm (euthermic) body temperatures are normal but deplete fat stores. Temperature-sensitive dataloggers were attached to the backs of 504 free-ranging little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) in hibernacula located throughout the northeastern USA. Dataloggers were retrieved at the end of the hibernation season and complete profiles of skin temperature data were available from 83 bats, which were categorized as: (1) unaffected, (2) WNS-affected but alive at time of datalogger removal, or (3) WNS-affected but found dead at time of datalogger removal. Histological confirmation of WNS severity (as indexed by degree of fungal infection) as well as confirmation of presence/absence of DNA from Gd by PCR was determined for 26 animals. We demonstrated that WNS-affected bats aroused to euthermic body temperatures more frequently than unaffected bats, likely contributing to subsequent mortality. Within the subset of WNS-affected bats that were found dead at the time of datalogger removal, the number of arousal bouts since datalogger attachment significantly predicted date of death. Additionally, the severity of cutaneous Gd infection correlated with the number of arousal episodes from torpor during hibernation. Thus, increased frequency of arousal from torpor likely contributes to WNS-associated mortality, but the question of how Gd infection induces increased arousals remains unanswered.
PMCID: PMC3380050  PMID: 22745688
11.  Could Direct Killing by Larger Dingoes Have Caused the Extinction of the Thylacine from Mainland Australia? 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(5):e34877.
Invasive predators can impose strong selection pressure on species that evolved in their absence and drive species to extinction. Interactions between coexisting predators may be particularly strong, as larger predators frequently kill smaller predators and suppress their abundances. Until 3500 years ago the marsupial thylacine was Australia's largest predator. It became extinct from the mainland soon after the arrival of a morphologically convergent placental predator, the dingo, but persisted in the absence of dingoes on the island of Tasmania until the 20th century. As Tasmanian thylacines were larger than dingoes, it has been argued that dingoes were unlikely to have caused the extinction of mainland thylacines because larger predators are rarely killed by smaller predators. By comparing Holocene specimens from the same regions of mainland Australia, we show that dingoes were similarly sized to male thylacines but considerably larger than female thylacines. Female thylacines would have been vulnerable to killing by dingoes. Such killing could have depressed the reproductive output of thylacine populations. Our results support the hypothesis that direct killing by larger dingoes drove thylacines to extinction on mainland Australia. However, attributing the extinction of the thylacine to just one cause is problematic because the arrival of dingoes coincided with another the potential extinction driver, the intensification of the human economy.
PMCID: PMC3342279  PMID: 22567093
12.  Massive Nest-Box Supplementation Boosts Fecundity, Survival and Even Immigration without Altering Mating and Reproductive Behaviour in a Rapidly Recovered Bird Population 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(4):e36028.
Habitat restoration measures may result in artificially high breeding density, for instance when nest-boxes saturate the environment, which can negatively impact species' demography. Potential risks include changes in mating and reproductive behaviour such as increased extra-pair paternity, conspecific brood parasitism, and polygyny. Under particular cicumstances, these mechanisms may disrupt reproduction, with populations dragged into an extinction vortex. With the use of nuclear microsatellite markers, we investigated the occurrence of these potentially negative effects in a recovered population of a rare secondary cavity-nesting farmland bird of Central Europe, the hoopoe (Upupa epops). High intensity farming in the study area has resulted in a total eradication of cavity trees, depriving hoopoes from breeding sites. An intensive nest-box campaign rectified this problem, resulting in a spectacular population recovery within a few years only. There was some concern, however, that the new, high artificially-induced breeding density might alter hoopoe mating and reproductive behaviour. As the species underwent a serious demographic bottleneck in the 1970–1990s, we also used the microsatellite markers to reconstitute the demo-genetic history of the population, looking in particular for signs of genetic erosion. We found i) a low occurrence of extra-pair paternity, polygyny and conspecific brood parasitism, ii) a high level of neutral genetic diversity (mean number of alleles and expected heterozygosity per locus: 13.8 and 83%, respectively) and, iii) evidence for genetic connectivity through recent immigration of individuals from well differentiated populations. The recent increase in breeding density did thus not induce so far any noticeable detrimental changes in mating and reproductive behaviour. The demographic bottleneck undergone by the population in the 1970s-1990s was furthermore not accompanied by any significant drop in neutral genetic diversity. Finally, genetic data converged with a concomitant demographic study to evidence that immigration strongly contributed to local population recovery.
PMCID: PMC3335799  PMID: 22545155
13.  Elevated Mortality among Birds in Chernobyl as Judged from Skewed Age and Sex Ratios 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(4):e35223.
Radiation has negative effects on survival of animals including humans, although the generality of this claim is poorly documented under low-dose field conditions. Because females may suffer disproportionately from the effects of radiation on survival due to differences in sex roles during reproduction, radiation-induced mortality may result in male-skewed adult sex ratios.
Methodology/Principal Finding
We estimated the effects of low-dose radiation on adult survival rates in birds by determining age ratios of adults captured in mist nets during the breeding season in relation to background radiation levels around Chernobyl and in nearby uncontaminated control areas. Age ratios were skewed towards yearlings, especially in the most contaminated areas, implying that adult survival rates were reduced in contaminated areas, and that populations in such areas could only be maintained through immigration from nearby uncontaminated areas. Differential mortality in females resulted in a strongly male-skewed sex ratio in the most contaminated areas. In addition, males sang disproportionately commonly in the most contaminated areas where the sex ratio was male skewed presumably because males had difficulty finding and acquiring mates when females were rare. The results were not caused by permanent emigration by females from the most contaminated areas because none of the recaptured birds had changed breeding site, and the proportion of individuals with morphological abnormalities did not differ significantly between the sexes for areas with normal and higher levels of contamination.
These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that the adult survival rate of female birds is particularly susceptible to the effects of low-dose radiation, resulting in male skewed sex ratios at high levels of radiation. Such skewed age ratios towards yearlings in contaminated areas are consistent with the hypothesis that an area exceeding 30,000 km2 in Chernobyl’s surroundings constitutes an ecological trap that causes dramatic excess mortality.
PMCID: PMC3324427  PMID: 22514722
14.  Action versus Result-Oriented Schemes in a Grassland Agroecosystem: A Dynamic Modelling Approach 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(4):e33257.
Effects of agri-environment schemes (AES) on biodiversity remain controversial. While most AES are action-oriented, result-oriented and habitat-oriented schemes have recently been proposed as a solution to improve AES efficiency. The objective of this study was to compare action-oriented, habitat-oriented and result-oriented schemes in terms of ecological and productive performance as well as in terms of management flexibility. We developed a dynamic modelling approach based on the viable control framework to carry out a long term assessment of the three schemes in a grassland agroecosystem. The model explicitly links grazed grassland dynamics to bird population dynamics. It is applied to lapwing conservation in wet grasslands in France. We ran the model to assess the three AES scenarios. The model revealed the grazing strategies respecting ecological and productive constraints specific to each scheme. Grazing strategies were assessed by both their ecological and productive performance. The viable control approach made it possible to obtain the whole set of viable grazing strategies and therefore to quantify the management flexibility of the grassland agroecosystem. Our results showed that habitat and result-oriented scenarios led to much higher ecological performance than the action-oriented one. Differences in both ecological and productive performance between the habitat and result-oriented scenarios were limited. Flexibility of the grassland agroecosystem in the result-oriented scenario was much higher than in that of habitat-oriented scenario. Our model confirms the higher flexibility as well as the better ecological and productive performance of result-oriented schemes. A larger use of result-oriented schemes in conservation may also allow farmers to adapt their management to local conditions and to climatic variations.
PMCID: PMC3320605  PMID: 22496746
15.  Disentangling the Relative Importance of Changes in Climate and Land-Use Intensity in Driving Recent Bird Population Trends 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(3):e30407.
Threats to biodiversity resulting from habitat destruction and deterioration have been documented for many species, whilst climate change is regarded as increasingly impacting upon species' distribution and abundance. However, few studies have disentangled the relative importance of these two drivers in causing recent population declines. We quantify the relative importance of both processes by modelling annual variation in population growth of 18 farmland bird species in the UK as a function of measures of land-use intensity and weather. Modelled together, both had similar explanatory power in accounting for annual fluctuations in population growth. When these models were used to retrodict population trends for each species as a function of annual variation in land-use intensity and weather combined, and separately, retrodictions incorporating land-use intensity were more closely linked to observed population trends than retrodictions based only on weather, and closely matched the UK farmland bird index from 1970 onwards. Despite more stable land-use intensity in recent years, climate change (inferred from weather trends) has not overtaken land-use intensity as the dominant driver of bird populations.
PMCID: PMC3316534  PMID: 22479304
16.  A Triple-Isotope Approach to Predict the Breeding Origins of European Bats 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(1):e30388.
Despite a commitment by the European Union to protect its migratory bat populations, conservation efforts are hindered by a poor understanding of bat migratory strategies and connectivity between breeding and wintering grounds. Traditional methods like mark-recapture are ineffective to study broad-scale bat migratory patterns. Stable hydrogen isotopes (δD) have been proven useful in establishing spatial migratory connectivity of animal populations. Before applying this tool, the method was calibrated using bat samples of known origin. Here we established the potential of δD as a robust geographical tracer of breeding origins of European bats by measuring δD in hair of five sedentary bat species from 45 locations throughout Europe. The δD of bat hair strongly correlated with well-established spatial isotopic patterns in mean annual precipitation in Europe, and therefore was highly correlated with latitude. We calculated a linear mixed-effects model, with species as random effect, linking δD of bat hair to precipitation δD of the areas of hair growth. This model can be used to predict breeding origins of European migrating bats. We used δ13C and δ15N to discriminate among potential origins of bats, and found that these isotopes can be used as variables to further refine origin predictions. A triple-isotope approach could thereby pinpoint populations or subpopulations that have distinct origins. Our results further corroborated stable isotope analysis as a powerful method to delineate animal migrations in Europe.
PMCID: PMC3264582  PMID: 22291947
17.  Minimising Mortality in Endangered Raptors Due to Power Lines: The Importance of Spatial Aggregation to Optimize the Application of Mitigation Measures 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(11):e28212.
Electrocution by power lines is one of the main causes of non-natural mortality in birds of prey. In an area in central Spain, we surveyed 6304 pylons from 333 power lines to determine electrocution rates, environmental and design factors that may influence electrocution and the efficacy of mitigation measures used to minimise electrocution cases. A total of 952 electrocuted raptors, representing 14 different species, were observed. Electrocuted raptors were concentrated in certain areas and the environmental factors associated with increased electrocution events were: greater numbers of prey animals; greater vegetation cover; and shorter distance to roads. The structural elements associated with electrocutions were shorter strings of insulators, one or more phases over the crossarm, cross-shaped design and pylon function. Of the 952 carcasses found, 148 were eagles, including golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), Spanish imperial eagle (Aquila adalberti) and Bonelli's eagle (Aquila fasciata). Electrocuted eagles were clustered in smaller areas than other electrocuted raptors. The factors associated with increased eagle electrocution events were: pylons function, shorter strings of insulators, higher slopes surrounding the pylon, and more numerous potential prey animals. Pylons with increased string of insulators had lower raptor electrocution rates than unimproved pylons, although this technique was unsuccessful for eagles. Pylons with cable insulation showed higher electrocution rates than unimproved pylons, both for raptors and eagles, despite this is the most widely used and recommended mitigation measure in several countries. To optimize the application of mitigation measures, our results recommend the substitution of pin-type insulators to suspended ones and elongating the strings of insulators.
PMCID: PMC3225394  PMID: 22140549
18.  Misleading Population Estimates: Biases and Consistency of Visual Surveys and Matrix Modelling in the Endangered Bearded Vulture 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(10):e26784.
Conservation strategies for long-lived vertebrates require accurate estimates of parameters relative to the populations' size, numbers of non-breeding individuals (the “cryptic” fraction of the population) and the age structure. Frequently, visual survey techniques are used to make these estimates but the accuracy of these approaches is questionable, mainly because of the existence of numerous potential biases. Here we compare data on population trends and age structure in a bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) population from visual surveys performed at supplementary feeding stations with data derived from population matrix-modelling approximations. Our results suggest that visual surveys overestimate the number of immature (<2 years old) birds, whereas subadults (3–5 y.o.) and adults (>6 y.o.) were underestimated in comparison with the predictions of a population model using a stable-age distribution. In addition, we found that visual surveys did not provide conclusive information on true variations in the size of the focal population. Our results suggest that although long-term studies (i.e. population matrix modelling based on capture-recapture procedures) are a more time-consuming method, they provide more reliable and robust estimates of population parameters needed in designing and applying conservation strategies. The findings shown here are likely transferable to the management and conservation of other long-lived vertebrate populations that share similar life-history traits and ecological requirements.
PMCID: PMC3198840  PMID: 22039550
19.  Why Does Rhinopithecus bieti Prefer the Highest Elevation Range in Winter? A Test of the Sunshine Hypothesis 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(9):e24449.
Environmental factors that affect spatiotemporal distribution patterns of animals usually include resource availability, temperature, and the risk of predation. However, they do not explain the counterintuitive preference of high elevation range in winter by the black-and-white snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus bieti). We asked whether variation of sunshine along with elevations is the key driving force. To test this hypothesis, we conducted field surveys to demonstrate that there was a statistically significant pattern of high elevation use during winter. We then asked whether this pattern can be explained by certain environmental factors, namely temperature, sunshine duration and solar radiation. Finally, we concluded with a possible ecological mechanism for this pattern. In this study, we employed GIS technology to quantify solar radiation and sunshine duration across the monkey's range. Our results showed that: 1) R. bieti used the high altitude range between 4100–4400 m in winter although the yearly home range spanned from 3500–4500 m; 2) both solar radiation and sunshine duration increased with elevation while temperature decreased with elevation; 3) within the winter range, the use of range was significantly correlated with solar radiation and sunshine duration; 4) monkeys moved to the areas with high solar radiation and duration following a snowfall, where the snow melts faster and food is exposed earlier. We concluded that sunshine was the main factor that influences selection of high elevation habitat for R. bieti in winter. Since some other endotherms in the area exhibit similar winter distributional patterns, we developed a sunshine hypothesis to explain this phenomenon. In addition, our work also represented a new method of integrating GIS models into traditional field ecology research to study spatiotemporal distribution pattern of wildlife. We suggest that further theoretical and empirical studies are necessary for better understanding of sunshine influence on wildlife range use.
PMCID: PMC3168501  PMID: 21915329
20.  Is Chytridiomycosis an Emerging Infectious Disease in Asia? 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(8):e23179.
The disease chytridiomycosis, caused by the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), has caused dramatic amphibian population declines and extinctions in Australia, Central and North America, and Europe. Bd is associated with >200 species extinctions of amphibians, but not all species that become infected are susceptible to the disease. Specifically, Bd has rapidly emerged in some areas of the world, such as in Australia, USA, and throughout Central and South America, causing population and species collapse. The mechanism behind the rapid global emergence of the disease is poorly understood, in part due to an incomplete picture of the global distribution of Bd. At present, there is a considerable amount of geographic bias in survey effort for Bd, with Asia being the most neglected continent. To date, Bd surveys have been published for few Asian countries, and infected amphibians have been reported only from Indonesia, South Korea, China and Japan. Thus far, there have been no substantiated reports of enigmatic or suspected disease-caused population declines of the kind that has been attributed to Bd in other areas. In order to gain a more detailed picture of the distribution of Bd in Asia, we undertook a widespread, opportunistic survey of over 3,000 amphibians for Bd throughout Asia and adjoining Papua New Guinea. Survey sites spanned 15 countries, approximately 36° latitude, 111° longitude, and over 2000 m in elevation. Bd prevalence was very low throughout our survey area (2.35% overall) and infected animals were not clumped as would be expected in epizootic events. This suggests that Bd is either newly emerging in Asia, endemic at low prevalence, or that some other ecological factor is preventing Bd from fully invading Asian amphibians. The current observed pattern in Asia differs from that in many other parts of the world.
PMCID: PMC3156717  PMID: 21887238
21.  Development and Disease: How Susceptibility to an Emerging Pathogen Changes through Anuran Development 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(7):e22307.
Ranaviruses have caused die-offs of amphibians across the globe. In North America, these pathogens cause more amphibian mortality events than any other pathogen. Field observations suggest that ranavirus epizootics in amphibian communities are common during metamorphosis, presumably due to changes in immune function. However, few controlled studies have compared the relative susceptibility of amphibians to ranaviruses across life stages. Our objectives were to measure differences in mortality and infection prevalence following exposure to ranavirus at four developmental stages and determine whether the differences were consistent among seven anuran species. Based on previous studies, we hypothesized that susceptibility to ranavirus would be greatest at metamorphosis. Our results did not support this hypothesis, as four of the species were most susceptible to ranavirus during the larval or hatchling stages. The embryo stage had the lowest susceptibility among species probably due to the protective membranous layers of the egg. Our results indicate that generalizations should be made cautiously about patterns of susceptibility to ranaviruses among amphibian developmental stages and species. Further, if early developmental stages of amphibians are susceptible to ranaviruses, the impact of ranavirus epizootic events may be greater than realized due to the greater difficulty of detecting morbid hatchlings and larvae compared to metamorphs.
PMCID: PMC3142128  PMID: 21799820
22.  Can Wild Ungulate Carcasses Provide Enough Biomass to Maintain Avian Scavenger Populations? An Empirical Assessment Using a Bio-Inspired Computational Model 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(5):e20248.
The reduction in the amount of food available for European avian scavengers as a consequence of restrictive public health policies is a concern for managers and conservationists. Since 2002, the application of several sanitary regulations has limited the availability of feeding resources provided by domestic carcasses, but theoretical studies assessing whether the availability of food resources provided by wild ungulates are enough to cover energetic requirements are lacking.
We assessed food provided by a wild ungulate population in two areas of NE Spain inhabited by three vulture species and developed a P System computational model to assess the effects of the carrion resources provided on their population dynamics. We compared the real population trend with to a hypothetical scenario in which only food provided by wild ungulates was available. Simulation testing of the model suggests that wild ungulates constitute an important food resource in the Pyrenees and the vulture population inhabiting this area could grow if only the food provided by wild ungulates would be available. On the contrary, in the Pre-Pyrenees there is insufficient food to cover the energy requirements of avian scavenger guilds, declining sharply if biomass from domestic animals would not be available.
Our results suggest that public health legislation can modify scavenger population trends if a large number of domestic ungulate carcasses disappear from the mountains. In this case, food provided by wild ungulates could be not enough and supplementary feeding could be necessary if other alternative food resources are not available (i.e. the reintroduction of wild ungulates), preferably in European Mediterranean scenarios sharing similar and socio-economic conditions where there are low densities of wild ungulates. Managers should anticipate the conservation actions required by assessing food availability and the possible scenarios in order to make the most suitable decisions.
PMCID: PMC3101228  PMID: 21629647
23.  Pan-European Distribution of White-Nose Syndrome Fungus (Geomyces destructans) Not Associated with Mass Mortality 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(4):e19167.
The dramatic mass mortalities amongst hibernating bats in Northeastern America caused by “white nose-syndrome” (WNS) continue to threaten populations of different bat species. The cold-loving fungus, Geomyces destructans, is the most likely causative agent leading to extensive destruction of the skin, particularly the wing membranes. Recent investigations in Europe confirmed the presence of the fungus G. destructans without associated mass mortality in hibernating bats in six countries but its distribution remains poorly known.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We collected data on the presence of bats with white fungal growth in 12 countries in Europe between 2003 and 2010 and conducted morphological and genetic analysis to confirm the identity of the fungus as Geomyces destructans. Our results demonstrate the presence of the fungus in eight countries spanning over 2000 km from West to East and provide compelling photographic evidence for its presence in another four countries including Romania, and Turkey. Furthermore, matching prevalence data of a hibernaculum monitored over two consecutive years with data from across Europe show that the temporal occurrence of the fungus, which first becomes visible around February, peaks in March but can still be seen in some torpid bats in May or June, is strikingly similar throughout Europe. Finally, we isolated and cultured G. destructans from a cave wall adjacent to a bat with fungal growth.
G. destructans is widely found over large areas of the European continent without associated mass mortalities in bats, suggesting that the fungus is native to Europe. The characterisation of the temporal variation in G. destructans growth on bats provides reference data for studying the spatio-temporal dynamic of the fungus. Finally, the presence of G. destructans spores on cave walls suggests that hibernacula could act as passive vectors and/or reservoirs for G. destructans and therefore, might play an important role in the transmission process.
PMCID: PMC3083413  PMID: 21556356
24.  Vision Impairs the Abilities of Bats to Avoid Colliding with Stationary Obstacles 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(11):e13912.
Free-flying insectivorous bats occasionally collide with stationary objects they should easily detect by echolocation and avoid. Collisions often occur with lighted objects, suggesting ambient light may deleteriously affect obstacle avoidance capabilities. We tested the hypothesis that free-flying bats may orient by vision when they collide with some obstacles. We additionally tested whether acoustic distractions, such as “distress calls” of other bats, contributed to probabilities of collision.
Methodology/Principal Findings
To investigate the role of visual cues in the collisions of free-flying little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) with stationary objects, we set up obstacles in an area of high bat traffic during swarming. We used combinations of light intensities and visually dissimilar obstacles to verify that bats orient by vision. In early August, bats collided more often in the light than the dark, and probabilities of collision varied with the visibility of obstacles. However, the probabilities of collisions altered in mid to late August, coincident with the start of behavioural, hormonal, and physiological changes occurring during swarming and mating. Distress calls did not distract bats and increase the incidence of collisions.
Our findings indicate that visual cues are more important for free-flying bats than previously recognized, suggesting integration of multi-sensory modalities during orientation. Furthermore, our study highlights differences between responses of captive and wild bats, indicating a need for more field experiments.
PMCID: PMC2976695  PMID: 21085481
25.  Patches of Bare Ground as a Staple Commodity for Declining Ground-Foraging Insectivorous Farmland Birds 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(10):e13115.
Conceived to combat widescale biodiversity erosion in farmland, agri-environment schemes have largely failed to deliver their promises despite massive financial support. While several common species have shown to react positively to existing measures, rare species have continued to decline in most European countries. Of particular concern is the status of insectivorous farmland birds that forage on the ground. We modelled the foraging habitat preferences of four declining insectivorous bird species (hoopoe, wryneck, woodlark, common redstart) inhabiting fruit tree plantations, orchards and vineyards. All species preferred foraging in habitat mosaics consisting of patches of grass and bare ground, with an optimal, species-specific bare ground coverage of 30–70% at the foraging patch scale. In the study areas, birds thrived in intensively cultivated farmland where such ground vegetation mosaics existed. Not promoted by conventional agri-environment schemes until now, patches of bare ground should be implemented throughout grassland in order to prevent further decline of insectivorous farmland birds.
PMCID: PMC2950849  PMID: 20949083

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