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Population dynamics, habitat choice, and breeding range of collared flycatcher Ficedula albicollis are determined by edible dormouse Glis glis Populationsentwicklung, Habitatwahl und Areal-grenzen des Halsbandschnaepper Ficedula albicollis unter dem einfluss des Siebenschlaefers Glis glis



Population dynamics, habitat choice, and breeding range of collared flycatcher Ficedula albicollis are determined by edible dormouse Glis glis Populationsentwicklung, Habitatwahl und Areal-grenzen des Halsbandschnaepper Ficedula albicollis unter dem einfluss des Siebenschlaefers Glis glis



Limicola 211: 3-47



In the 19th, and at the beginning of the 20th century, Collared Flycatchers Ficedula albicollis Were probably always sparsely distributed in SW Germany. In the state and communal forests of Baden-Wuerttemberg, the rise in the number of nest boxes from 0 to over 200.000 in the 25 years after 1950 triggered an enormous population increase to about 5.000-7.000 breeding pairs. A slight rise in numbers had already been recorded obviously due to the high numbers of cold winters in the period 1930-1971. since the resulting decline in competing species benefited the Collared Flycatcher. With stagnation in the number of boxes the population began to decline. The population increase in meadow orchards was similar and was perhaps influenced by the high population increase in woodland. But while there was only a temporary drop in the meadow orchard population due to climatic factors in Africa (Sahel drought) in 1970-1990, the forest population has almost disappeared. The factors suggested as possible causes of the population fall since ca. 1975 included an "Atlanticisation" of the breeding season climate in Central Europe, the effects of toxic substances used in forests and meadow orchards, the grubbing up of fruit trees, or the loss of mature forest stands. None of these factors appears to have played a decisive role in the drop in numbers. Although mature tree stands, and therefore natural cavities, have increased over the last 50 years, the flycatcher nearly disappeared from woodland. However the ca. 5 million nest box records from the forests of Baden-Wurttemberg highlight a phenomenon that until now has been almost ignored. This population decrease in woodland has, for over 20 years, run counter to the increase in the numbers of the Edible Dormouse Glis glis. Around 1950, this species occupied between 2 and 7 % of nest boxes: today that figure is 20-30 %, but regionally can be well above 70 %. During the first 25 years of nest box monitoring, Edible Dormice found in nest boxes were killed. While this dormouse's active period hardly overlaps with the breeding season of tits Parus spp. and Nuthatch Sitta europaea, it clashes completely with that of the flycatcher. Through competition for nest boxes and predation on birds. both young and adults, it has become the dominant factor. Following an "Edible Dormouse year" there are Ficedula albicollis population declines in the two subsequent years. leading in the medium-term to elimination of subpopulations and a reduction in breeding range. Declining interest in the hunting of Red Foxes Vulpes vulpes, plus oral vaccination against rabies, have led to a huge rise in the fox population. In forests this has meant a reduction in the numbers of martens Martes spp., even though they are also hunted less, which in turn has profited the Edible Dormouse. Now increasing numbers of competitors in the forests are diminishing the supply of cavities. Of all successful breeding attempts by birds, the percentage represented by Collared Flycatcher in the forests of SW Germany fell from regional values of 3-30 % to present-day levels that can barely be measured. Only a local trial since 1999 to encourage flycatchers in the forests by preventing the settlement and reproduction of Edible Dormouse has resulted in a strong improvement in Ficedula albicollis numbers, and its share of all successful birds breeding in nest boxes rose (despite unfavourable climatic developments at 700 m a.s.l.) from an average of below 2 % to 33 %. The almost complete exclusion of a single competitor/predator has therefore led to a substantial in-crease in the Collared Flycatcher population. The Edible Dormouse, which is uncommon away from woodland, is almost certainly the chief cause for the disappearance of Collared Flycatchers from SW-German forests, which, with their increasingly semi natural management regime and their rising mast crop, are proving to be an ecological trap for the species. Also their preference for alluvial woodland might be explained by the fact that dormice that hibernate underground are drowned. So what can be singled-out here over the past 70 years is that the weight given to the dominant factors affecting Collared Flycatcher numbers at different times has frequently altered: Periods with an above average number of cold winters decimated competing cavity-breeders like tits and Nuthatch between 1930 and 1970. From 1950 to 1970 the erection of a huge number of nest boxes and the killing of Edible Dormice resulted in Collared Flycatcher being a common woodland bird species. Simultaneously, toxic substances in the environment have apparently affected predators (Sparrow hawk Accipiter nisus) and cavity-competitors (wasps, hornets, bats; Vespidae, Chiroptera) more than the flycatcher, and hence it has even becoming re-established in woodlands. Studies confirm this (Tab. 2), but also show that the former high numbers of this flycatcher were artificially maintained. The strong recovery trend in f lycatcher numbers since the 1990s were only seen in the meadow orchards. where the species profited from the decline of its cavity-competitors Tree Spar-row Passer montanus and Starling Sturnus vulgaris and the absence of Edible Dormice.

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