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Appears in Collections:Biological and Environmental Sciences eTheses
Title: Ecology and conservation of breeding lapwings in upland grassland systems: Effects of agricultural management and soil properties
Author(s): McCallum, Heather M.
Supervisor(s): Park, Kirsty
Goulson, Dave
Wilson, Jerry
Hanley, Nicholas
Sheldon, Rob
Keywords: lapwing
soil pH
marginal farmland
Allolobophora chlorotica
fodder crops
Issue Date: Sep-2012
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: Agriculture is the principal land use throughout Europe and agricultural intensification has been implicated in large reductions in biodiversity, with the negative effects on birds particularly well documented. The lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) is one such species where changes in farming practices has reduced the suitability and quality of breeding habitat, leading to a drop in population size that has been so severe as to warrant its addition to the Red List of Birds of Conservation Concern in the UK. Lowland areas, where agricultural intensification has generally been most pronounced, have been worst affected, however, more recently declines in marginal upland areas, previously considered refuges for breeding wader populations, have been identified. An upland livestock farm in Stirlingshire that uses an in-bye system of fodder crop management and has unusually high densities of breeding lapwings provides a basis for this project to test causal hypotheses for the decline of upland lapwing populations and to identify potential conservation management solutions. Specifically this farm plants a forage brassica in an in-bye field for two consecutive years, followed by reseeding with grass and seven, out of sixteen, in-bye fields have undergone this regime at the study site since 1997. Fields that had undergone fodder crop management supported almost 60% more lapwings than comparable fields that had not previously been planted with the fodder crop. Lapwing density was highest in the year after the fodder crop was planted, once it had been grazed, which results in a high percentage of bare ground, likely to be attractive to nesting lapwings. Lapwing densities remained above that which occurred in fields that had not undergone fodder crop management for a further four years after the field had been returned to grass. The effect of management on lapwing food resources and nesting structure was tested through a field experiment; liming increased the abundance of Allolobophora chlorotica, an earthworm species that was associated with chick foraging location at the study site, suggesting that lapwings may benefit from liming conducted as part of fodder crop management. The relationship between lapwings and soil pH is further explored across 89 sites on mainland Scotland, using soil property data to improve the predictive power of habitat association models, something which has not previously been done for any farmland bird. Adding soil and topographical data to habitat models, based on established relationships between breeding lapwings and their habitat, improved model fit by almost 60%, indicating that soil properties influence the distribution of this species. The density of breeding lapwings was highest at higher altitude sites, but only when the soil was relatively less peaty and less acidic, providing further support for the hypothesis that agricultural liming benefits lapwings. In addition to assessing the conservation benefit of fodder crop management, the economic costs are also considered. Fodder crop management provides a source of livestock fodder in the autumn and winter during a period when forage demands outstrip grass growth, and ultimately improves the grazing quality of the grass that is replaced; this system currently operates outside of any agri-environment scheme (AES). However, at the study site, planting of the fodder crop and grass is delayed to avoid agriculture operations during the breeding season, which reduces yield and hence profitability. An initial estimate of £200 ha-1 is suggested as an incentive to encourage wider adoption of fodder crop management in a “lapwing friendly” manner, although further work is required to determine if this payment level is appropriate and the current method of AES implementation may limit the suitability of fodder crop management as an AES. The results indicate that agricultural liming could benefit breeding lapwings in pasture fields where soil pH falls below pH 5.2, by increasing earthworm abundance. Where soil pH is below pH 5.2, liming should provide a cost effective mechanism for farmers to improve grass yields. Regular soil testing and liming in response to low pH, within improved or semi-improved grassland fields, where management activities such as use of nitrogen fertiliser can contribute to soil acidification, should be advocated to farmers in marginal areas as a mechanism for improving grass productivity whilst potentially benefitting breeding lapwing and other species where earthworms contribute significantly to their diet.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation
Affiliation: School of Natural Sciences
Biological and Environmental Sciences

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