Pod cast: Michelangelo Morganti talks about farmland management & lesser kestrels in ItalySubmitted by editor on 18 March 2021.
Listen to Michelangelo Morganti talk about farmland management & lesser kestrels in southern Italy. Pod cast on soundcloud can be found here
Title: Assessing the relative importance of managed crops and semi-natural grasslands as foraging habitats for breeding lesser kestrels Falco naumanni in southeastern Italy
Full Gold Open Access paper here
Farmland habitats host important populations of several threatened bird species. So far, how to reconcile farmland management with the maintenance of viable populations of these taxa is a major challenge for conservation biology. Southeastern Italy hosts ca 7000 pairs of breeding lesser kestrels Falco naumanni, representing one of the European strongholds of this small colonial raptor of conservation concern. We firstly assessed the relative importance of managed crops versus semi-natural grasslands in determining the local abundance of lesser kestrels at the landscape scale, and we successively studied the foraging habitat preferences at a smaller spatial scale. Surveys of foraging birds were associated with land-use collection at 191 homogeneous habitat sampling parcels from 14 plots of 16 km2 each, uniformly distributed over a 2400 km2 area. Each plot was visited six times during the 2017 breeding season (May–July). Land-use markedly changed along the season, unripe cereals being dominant in May, while harvested cereal crops prevailed in July. Land-use did not affect lesser kestrel distribution early in the season while foraging birds were more abundant in plots with a greater proportion of harvested cereal crops and a lower one of semi-natural grassland in the late breeding season. In accordance, the analysis of foraging habitat preferences within plots showed that in May unripe cereal crops and semi-natural grasslands were used proportionally to their availability. In June and July, harvested cereal crops were used more than expected from their availability, while semi-natural grasslands were significantly avoided. Our landscape-scale analysis thus indicates that semi-natural grasslands are much less used in comparison to harvested crops during the mid and late parts of the breeding season, suggesting that lesser kestrel may be able to take advantage of crop management practices more than other farmland birds of conservation priority.