University of Oulu

Birds of prey and grouse in Finland : do avian predators limit or regulate their prey numbers?

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Author: Reif, Vitali1
Organizations: 1University of Oulu, Faculty of Science, Department of Biology
Format: ebook
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.7 MB)
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Language: English
Published: 2008
Publish Date: 2008-05-28
Thesis type: Doctoral Dissertation
Defence Note: Academic dissertation to be presented, with the assent of the Faculty of Science of the University of Oulu, for public defence in Kuusamonsali (Auditorium YB210), Linnanmaa, on June 7th, 2008, at 12 noon
Reviewer: Professor Steve Redpath
Doctor Jari Valkama


Relationships between predators and prey may affect population dynamics of both parties. Predators may also serve as a link between populations of different prey, e.g., small game and small mammals. I used available data on the diet and reproduction of birds of prey (mainly common buzzards Buteo buteo and goshawks Accipiter gentilis) and video surveillance of their nests, as well as multiannual data on numbers of grouse and small mammals for studying food habits and population dynamics of raptors and their links with population fluctuations of voles and grouse (capercaillie Tetrao urogallus, black grouse Tetrao tetrix and hazel grouse Bonasa bonasia) in western Finland during 1980–1990s when grouse and vole numbers fluctuated in regular cycles.

Microtus voles were the main prey of the buzzards which partly switched their diet to small game (juvenile grouse and hares) in years when vole numbers declined. The nesting rate of buzzards also correlated with vole abundance, but the productivity rate and brood size tended to lag behind the vole cycle. This mismatch between the buzzards' functional and numerical responses resulted in a fairly small impact of buzzards on juvenile grouse, which did not correlate with vole density. The productivity of goshawks followed the fluctuations of grouse density closely whereas the occupancy rate of goshawk territories did so with a two-year lag. The annual numerical ratio of goshawk to grouse was inversely related to grouse density, suggesting that this predator may be a destabilising factor for grouse population dynamics. However, the goshawks' kill rate of grouse showed no clear relations to grouse density. In June–July, these birds of prey (including hen harriers Circus cyaneus) usually killed a relatively small number of grouse chicks. Losses to raptors constituted up to one quarter of grouse juvenile mortality during the two months. We did not find a strong effect of avian predators on grouse juvenile mortality. In boreal forests, predators and other factors of grouse mortality do not operate as one, and there is probably no single factor responsible for the reproductive success of grouse.

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Series: Acta Universitatis Ouluensis. A, Scientiae rerum naturalium
ISSN-E: 1796-220X
ISBN: 978-951-42-8805-0
ISBN Print: 978-951-42-8804-3
Issue: 509
Copyright information: © University of Oulu, 2008. This publication is copyrighted. You may download, display and print it for your own personal use. Commercial use is prohibited.