Habitat modelling and the ecology of the marsh tit (Poecile palustris)

Broughton, Richard K.. 2012 Habitat modelling and the ecology of the marsh tit (Poecile palustris). Bournemouth University, School of Applied Sciences, PhD Thesis, 196pp.

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Among British birds, a number of woodland specialists have undergone a serious population decline in recent decades, for reasons that are poorly understood. The Marsh Tit is one such species, experiencing a 71% decline in abundance between 1967 and 2009, and a 17% range contraction between 1968 and 1991. The factors driving this decline are uncertain, but hypotheses include a reduction in breeding success and annual survival, increased inter-specific competition, and deteriorating habitat quality. Despite recent work investigating some of these elements, knowledge of the Marsh Tit’s behaviour, landscape ecology and habitat selection remains incomplete, limiting the understanding of the species’ decline. This thesis provides additional key information on the ecology of the Marsh Tit with which to test and review leading hypotheses for the species’ decline. Using novel analytical methods, comprehensive high-resolution models of woodland habitat derived from airborne remote sensing were combined with extensive datasets of Marsh Tit territory and nest-site locations to describe habitat selection in unprecedented detail. Further fieldwork established the causes and frequency of breeding failure at the local population scale, and dispersal distances and success were quantified. Information from these studies was used to inform national-scale spatial analyses of habitat distribution in relation to the pattern of range contraction for the Marsh Tit and two other woodland bird species. The combined results indicate that Marsh Tits require extensive areas of mature woodland in order to accommodate large territories and short dispersal distances, with greatest selection for a woodland structure encompassing a tall, near-closed tree canopy and extensive understorey. The evidence suggests that nest-site competition, nest predation or deteriorating habitat quality have not driven the population decline. However, reduced connectivity between woodlands in the landscape, possibly due to hedgerow loss, may have interacted with increased mortality to precipitate population declines and local extinctions where habitat fragmentation was relatively high. The potential causes of increased mortality are discussed, along with priority areas for future research and the wider possible applications of remote sensing techniques in the field of woodland bird research.

Item Type: Publication - Thesis (PhD)
Programmes: CEH Topics & Objectives 2009 - 2012 > Biodiversity
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Pywell
Additional Keywords: lidar, marsh tit, woodland, remote sensing, birds
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 06 Dec 2012 12:34 +0 (UTC)

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