Lesser kestrel diet and agricultural intensification in the Mediterranean: An unexpected win-win solution?

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Farmland bird species have suffered dramatic declines in recent decades, especially in Mediterranean areas. Theintensification of agricultural practices has led to reduced invertebrate prey, which represent the bulk of the dietof many farmland birds. In this study, we investigated the spatial and temporal variation in the diet of the lesserkestrel (Falco naumanni) during the breeding season, monitored over a five-year period between 2006 and 2013in the Gela Plain (Sicily). Our aim was to understand whether, and to what extent, farming practices affected thereproductive outputs of this predominantly insectivore bird in order to find a profitable compromise betweenconservation of farmland birds and farming practices. During our study, lesser kestrel diet varied amongfarmland habitats, in terms of ingested biomass, prey items/pellet and diet breadth. This has reflected in thereproductive output because colonies characterised by a higher ingested biomass fledged more chicks than theothers. The artichoke and grassland fields were found to provide the most beneficial dietary parameters.Unexpectedly, the intensive and high-profit artichoke farming might turn out to be suitable for lesser kestrels.Artichoke fields are chiefly used when abandoned after harvest, providing high prey availability and accessibilityfor kestrels during the brood raising stage of their breeding season. A mosaic of grassland and artichoke fieldscan thus be recommended for Mediterranean agricultural areas of the Natura2000 network, in which some intensive farming and lesser kestrels can coexist, if adequately framed in a friendly-to-wildlife agriculture policy. Such a potential optimal trade-off between avian population persistence and economic sustainability for farmers we have found, should be planned in alternative management of agro-ecosystems, enhancing the functioning of trophic chains. For our study area, we suggest at least farmers be: i) informed on the role of predators as biological agents for pest control; ii) granted to reduce the high level of chemicals currently used during cultivationin favour of organic farming; and iii) granted to maintain the artichoke fields until June, following completion of the harvest.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)122-130
Number of pages9
JournalJournal for Nature Conservation
Publication statusPublished - 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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