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Title: Modelling the breeding habitat of the lesser kestrel falco naumanni in an agricultural landscape in Central Greece
Author: Antonia, Galanaki
ISNI:       0000 0004 2704 1793
Awarding Body: The Manchester Metropolitan University
Current Institution: Manchester Metropolitan University
Date of Award: 2011
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The lesser kestrel Falco naumanni is a globally threatened falcon which, in Europe, is mainly restricted to the Mediterranean Basin. Its populations in Western Europe have undergone a rapid decline by ca. 95% since the 1950s and although it used to be one of the most abundant falcons in Europe in the 1970s, it is now extinct from central Europe and very rare in many other countries. The current European breeding population of the lesser kestrel is estimated at 25,000-42,000 breeding pairs, with Spain, Italy and Greece supporting the largest populations. It breeds in colonies in towns and villages and forages in steppe-like habitats, such as grasslands and plains with low-intensity cultivation. The main cause of its decline in Europe has been habitat loss and degradation, primarily as a result of agricultural intensification and other land use changes. The main aim of the present study, conducted during the years 2005-2007, was to identify environmental attributes related to lesser kestrel occurrence and abundance in agricultural areas in Central Greece. A second aim was to detect land cover changes and evaluate their impact on lesser kestrel breeding grounds, following the implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) of the European Union (EU). Species Distribution Models (SDMs) were used to understand and predict the spatial distributions of lesser kestrels. These models have become a fundamental component in ecology and conservation biology and have been used to examine the occurrence and abundance of species, to forecast how species would respond to land use changes and to select areas for conservation planning. The study area is located in the plain of Thessaly, in Central Greece which holds the main breeding populations of lesser kestrels in the country. It consists of agricultural land dominated by irrigated cotton and dry cereal fields, open hilly areas with grasslands and is surrounded by mountains. The lesser kestrel breeding distribution was mapped during the years 2005-2007. Predictive spatial distribution models were developed from the species presence/absence data and environmental information including land cover, topography, landscape structure and human population. The performance of different statistical approaches, a parametric (Generalised Linear Model), a semi-parametric (Generalised Additive Model) and a non-parametric model (Random Forest) was also evaluated. The quality of agricultural areas as foraging habitats for the lesser kestrel during the chick rearing period was assessed using Multiple Regression & Poisson Regression Models and a habitat selection analysis (Neu's method). Satellite images were used to detect landscape changes over a period of 30 years (1977,1992,1999 and 2006). The results of the statistical models agree with the findings of previous habitat-based studies which highlight the importance of low input farming systems for the occurrence of lesser kestrel breeding colonies. The predicted probability of lesser kestrel occurrence at the large scale analysis is positively associated with farmed landscapes of both dry and wet arable cultivations. With respect to prediction accuracy, there is little to choose between the models and reduction in testing accuracy is relatively small suggesting that all models are robust. The foraging habitat analyses at the fine-scale reveal the importance of non-irrigated arable land, grassland, fallow land and pastures as optimal feeding sites for lesser kestrels in the study area. Abundance of foraging birds is negatively associated with irrigated farmland, scrubland and woodland. Electricity wires and poles, used as foraging perches, is a significant predictor for the species abundance in most models. The analysis of land-use changes showed that traditional cereal farming has been reduced, while cotton production has increased in the study area, particularly during the 1990s; a development driven by the farming practices implemented through CAP reforms of the EU. Agricultural areas, such as dry cereal cultivations, that support rare species are considered as `high-naturevalue (HNV) farmland' and are of great importance for the preservation of biodiversity in Europe. Overall, the main conservation priority for the conservation of lesser kestrel in the plain of Thessaly is the maintenance of low-input farming systems and the implementation of a greener CAP that would promote environmental-friendly farming practices and preserve wildlife in agricultural ecosystems
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available