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Identifying ecological and life-history drivers of population dynamics of wetland birds in South Africa

Barshep, Yahkat, Erni, Birgit, Underhill, Les G., Altwegg, Res
Global ecology and conservation 2017 v.12 pp. 96-107
Palearctic region, body size, breeding, chicks, foraging, latitude, least squares, life history, males, migratory behavior, models, phylogeny, polygamy, population growth, population size, water birds, wetlands, wintering grounds, South Africa
Identifying species most vulnerable to environmental change requires reliable estimates of population trends and identification of traits that tend to be associated with these trends. Using state-space models that explicitly describe how the population size changes over time, we estimated population trends of 25 non-migratory African, 13 intra-African migrants, and 16 Palaearctic migratory waterbird species during 1995–2009 in South Africa. Using the average of the slope of the last five years (2005–2009), we used phylogenetic generalized least squares analyses to identify relationships with life-history (parental care, extent of polygamy, chick development, body size, average brood size) and ecological traits (migratory status, breeding latitude, foraging guild, wintering habitat type). The significant predictors of population trend were migratory status, average brood size, type of chick development (altricial, semiprecocial, precocial), and extent of male polygamy (0%, = <20%, >20%). Long-distance Palaearctic migrants and African non-migratory species on average suffered the greatest magnitude of decline, intra-African migrants showed population increase. There was a negative relationship between population trend and average brood size with an increase in brood size resulting in negative trends. Altricial species and species with some extent of polygamy (=<20%) had the greatest population increase. Our results provide evidence that these recent population trends were non-random with respect to life-history traits.