The impact of environmental factors on distribution of Scops Owl Otus scops in the wider area of Kras (SW Slovenia)

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The impact of environmental factors on distribution of Scops Owl Otus scops in the wider area of Kras (SW Slovenia)

The aim of the study was to determine the key environmental factors affecting Scops Owl Otus scops occurrence in the wider Kras plateau area (SW Slovenia, 665 km2). Scops Owl was systematically censused in 2006 (180 calling males) and in 2008 (167 calling males). Males were distributed either solitarily or clumped in groups, mostly situated in villages and its surroundings, indicating the species' synanthropic character. Crude densities were 0.3 males/km2 in 2006 and 2008, respectively, while ecological densities were 1.0 males/km2 in 2006 and 0.9 males/km2 in 2008. Population distribution remained roughly the same in both years, with the highest densities in the western and central parts of the Kras plateau, on Kraški rob and on Podgorski kras plateau. Habitat selection was analyzed at three spatial scales (regional, settlement and territory scales), based on spatial data layers (22 environmental variables), using Chi-square goodness-of-fit test and logistic regression. Results revealed that at the regional scale, Scops Owl preferably selected open habitats (extensively managed orchards, built-up areas, vineyards, permanent grasslands) and avoided dense forest and agricultural land with forest trees. As far as settlements were concerned, Scops Owl was more prone to select those that were more distant from the highway, with better preserved traditional agricultural landscape (with more hedgerows) and with higher average annual air temperature. In territory selection, Scops Owl occurrence was associated with longer distance from the highway, larger number of old buildings and higher landscape mosaics. The species seems to be threatened by traffic noise, habitat loss through abandonment and intensification of land and, potentially, by lack of breeding niches within settlements. Conservation measures should include the preservation of mosaic farmland, promotion of extensive agricultural practices, prevention of scrub and forest expansion, and maintenance of breeding niches (old trees, cavities in buildings).

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