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Light grazing of saltmarshes increases the availability of nest sites for common redshank Tringa totanus, but reduces their quality

Sharps, Elwyn; Garbutt, Angus; Hiddink, Jan G.; Smart, Jennifer; Skov, Martin W.. 2016 Light grazing of saltmarshes increases the availability of nest sites for common redshank Tringa totanus, but reduces their quality. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, 221. 71-78. 10.1016/j.agee.2016.01.030

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Abstract/Summary

The breeding population of Common Redshank Tringa totanus on British saltmarshes has reduced by >50% since 1985, with declines linked to changes in grazing management. Conservation initiatives have encouraged low-intensity grazing of 0.5 cattle ha−1 y−1 but even light grazing can lead to high rates of nest mortality. To avoid predators, Redshank nest in patches of tall vegetation, but the effects of grazing on the availability and quality of habitat selected by Redshank remain unclear. We investigated Redshank nest site selection in relation to cattle grazing and asked (a) which nest vegetation conditions do Redshank select and (b) does grazing limit the availability of higher quality nest sites? We characterised vegetation height and composition at nests and control locations on six saltmarshes grazed between 0 and 0.55 cattle ha−1 y−1, which falls within or near the UK Environment Agency definition of light grazing. Redshank selected nest locations in the tallest vegetation available (26 ± 13 cm with no grazing), but grazing limited the availability of such tall vegetation (11 ± 7 cm at 0.55 cattle ha−1 y−1). However, Redshank also selected nest locations dominated by the grass Festuca rubra, which increased with higher livestock densities. By causing Redshank to nest in shorter vegetation, but with more of their preferred grass species, grazing presented a trade-off for Redshank. As previous work has shown that nesting in shorter vegetation results in higher nest predation rates, results of this study suggest that even light conservation grazing can result in Redshank nesting in lower quality habitat. Reducing saltmarsh grazing levels below 0.55 cattle ha−1 y−1 may therefore increase Redshank populations by maintaining a vegetation structure with patches of F. rubra but with longer sward heights for nesting.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI): 10.1016/j.agee.2016.01.030
CEH Sections: Emmett
ISSN: 0167-8809
Additional Keywords: shorebirds, waders, wading birds, ground-nesting, habitat use, habitat selection, vegetation structure
NORA Subject Terms: Biology and Microbiology
Date made live: 27 Jan 2017 12:35 +0 (UTC)
URI: http://nora.nerc.ac.uk/id/eprint/516065

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