Scavenging in changing environments: woody encroachment shapes rural scavenger assemblages in Europe
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Rural abandonment and subsequent vegetation regeneration (‘passive rewilding') are expected to increase worldwide, producing cascades of dynamic socioeconomic, landscape and biological changes. Although landscape characteristics strongly influence the structure and functioning of scavengers, little is known about the ecological consequences of passive rewilding due to woody encroachment (i.e.‘landscape closure') on scavenging assemblages. We investigated differences in ‘scavenger assemblage composition' (species richness and abundances) and ‘scavenging efficiency' (scavenging frequency, detection and consumption times and consumption rates) in a mountain agroecosystem (Pyrenees) undergoing passive rewilding. We monitored 178 carcasses in three landscapes: ‘open', ‘shrubland' and ‘forest', and evaluated the effects of landscape type on ‘scavenger assemblage composition' and ‘scavenging efficiency' at the community and species levels, while accounting for the influences of carcass size, type and placement time. We also examined whether the locally most abundant and efficient scavenger (i.e. the griffon vulture Gyps fulvus) affects scavenging patterns. We found that landscape type was the main factor governing scavenging dynamics. Overall and average scavenger richness were similar in open and shrubland landscapes, while forests contained the lowest number of scavengers, mainly comprising mammals. Unlike mammals, avian scavenging frequency decreased as vegetation cover increased, especially for obligate scavengers (i.e. vultures). Scavenger abundances were highest in open landscapes, and carcasses were detected and consumed more rapidly in these landscapes. Carcass size did not influence detection and consumption times, although it did affect average scavenger richness, abundances and consumption rates. Consumption rates were higher in open landscapes and were strongly associated with the presence of griffon vultures. Interestingly, we found that griffon vultures influenced scavenging dynamics via facilitation processes. However, woody encroachment could reduce the scavenging role of this species, while favoring mammalian facultative scavengers. Finally, our findings highlight the pivotal role of griffon vultures, mediated by landscape characteristics, in reducing carcass persistence.
Is part ofOIKOS, 2022, vol. 2022, num. 12, p. e09310
European research projects
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