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Habitat Selection by Burrowing Owls Athene cunicularia in the Pampas of Argentina: A Multiple-Scale Assessment

Baladrón Alejandro V., Isacch Juan P., Cavalli Matilde, Bó María S.
Acta ornithologica 2016 v.51 no.2 pp. 137-150
Athene cunicularia, birds of prey, cropland, dunes, habitat preferences, habitats, indigenous species, land cover, land use, landscapes, linear models, nesting sites, probability, remote sensing, surveys, Argentina
Human-induced habitat changes have been typically linked to negative effects on native species, but an increasing number of studies show that many species are unaffected by these changes or even benefited from them. The Burrowing Owl Athene cunicularia is a raptor species that has deserved special attention in recent years due to its capacity to live in a variety of natural and modified habitats. In this study, we analyzed habitat characteristics that determine the habitat selection of the Burrowing Owl at the nest-patch, territory and landscape scales in the Pampas of Argentina. We performed broadcasting call surveys to evaluate presence-absence of owls at random points. In addition, we measured habitat variables in the field and used satellite imagery to obtain land-use information. We used Generalized Linear Models to explore the influence of habitat variables on the probability of occupancy by Burrowing Owls. Our results indicate that Burrowing Owls demonstrate good ability to live in a wide variety of habitat types and with different disturbance levels in the Pampas. At the nest-patch scale, which includes the nest-site and the surrounding patch around it, the presence of owls was positively associated with the horizontal visibility and was influenced by the land-cover type. At the territory scale, the occurrence of owls was positively associated with the presence of active (non-vegetated) dunes and negatively with croplands. At the landscape scale, the presence of owls was negatively associated with the disturbance level and positively with the amount of borders between habitats. A unique multi-scale model containing variables of the three spatial scales was more robust to explain variation in Burrowing Owl occupancy patterns than any single-scale model. This would reveal the hierarchical nature of habitat selection by Burrowing Owls in the Pampas, comparable to that observed in North American populations.