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Large-scale human effects on an arid African raptor community

Anadón, J.D., Sánchez-Zapata, J.A., Carrete, M., Donázar, J.A., Hiraldo, F.
Animal conservation 2010 v.13 no.5 pp. 495-504
Milvus migrans, Sahel, birds of prey, body size, carrying capacity, climate change, community structure, crops, eagles, fuelwood, habitat destruction, habitats, harvesting, human population, humans, land use change, overgrazing, population size, species diversity, steppes, surveys
In the current scenario of biodiversity crisis there is a growing need for identifying causes of changes in biodiversity at large scales. Here we assess factors driving raptor community structure in the Sahel, a region suffering a wide range of environmental degradation and a vital area for European migrant birds. Using road surveys, we estimated the effects of population size, human settlement patterns (e.g. urban vs. nomadic) and land use on the raptor community, taking into account the major natural role played by productivity. Total raptor richness values were similar to those described for other steppe regions of the world, with one super-abundant migrant species, the black kite Milvus migrans; however, richness of resident raptors was strikingly lower than expected, with most large body-size African species (both eagles and vultures) absent. Raptor richness was strongly correlated with human activities in a scale-dependent fashion. At a 25 km resolution, raptor richness was driven by habitat and productivity, with a positive response to crops. At a smaller scale, human population was positively related with wintering species richness but negatively with richness of resident ones, perhaps as a consequence of non-agricultural activities such as direct harvesting and different forms of habitat degradation (e.g. overgrazing or firewood collection). Subsistence economies in systems with low natural environmental heterogeneity and with a human population over carrying capacity, such as the Sahel, may lead to exhausted biological systems even in the absence of intensive agricultural or urban land-use changes, as shown by the deeply impoverished sedentary raptor community. Our results suggest that, because habitat and productivity seem to play a relevant role in driving species richness, climate change may have a major effect on the raptor community of the Sahel.