Livestock grazing affects the egg size of an insectivorous passerine

D. M. Evans, Stephen Redpath, S. A. Evans, David A. Elston, Peter Dennis

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38 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Livestock grazing is a major driver of ecosystem change, and has been associated with significant declines in various bird species worldwide. In Britain, there is particular concern that severe grazing pressure is deleteriously affecting vegetation and birds in upland regions. However, the mechanism by which grazing affects birds is unclear. Here, we report for the first time, to our knowledge, that sheep grazing pressure affects the egg size of a common upland passerine: the meadow pipit Anthus pratensis. We manipulated sheep stocking densities in a replicated field experiment, and found that plots with the highest stocking density contained nests with the smallest eggs, and that plots with low stocking density contained nests with the largest eggs. However, eggs laid in ungrazed plots were also small, suggesting that either too many sheep or their removal from upland areas might have a detrimental effect on pipit egg size. We found no significant effect on fledging success but the reduced post-fledging survival of young from smaller eggs, as seen in other studies, could partly explain declines in upland birds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)322-325
Number of pages4
JournalBiology Letters
Volume1
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 22 Sep 2005

Keywords

  • breeding success
  • egg size
  • grazing
  • passerine
  • North America
  • birds
  • conservation
  • heather

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