Can wild ungulate carcasses provide enough biomass to maintain avian scavenger populations? An empirical assessment using a bio-inspired computational model
Background: 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. Methodology/Findings: 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. Conclusions/Significance: 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.
Journal or Serie
PLoS ONE, 2011, vol. 6, núm. 5, e20248