Food-niche pattern of the Barn Owl (Tyto alba) in intensively cultivated agricultural landscape

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Abstract

This study investigated the dietary niche of the Barn Owl (Tyto alba) in an intensively farmed landscape, based on pellet samples from 12 nesting pairs containing 25 animal taxa and 1,994 prey items after the breeding season in 2016. Based on land use categories of the buffer area around each nest, three landscape types (agricultural, mosaic, urban) were considered, to analyse the diet composition and food-niche parameters. Niche breadth was calculated at the local and landscape level. Small mammals were the most frequent in the diet than other prey in each of the landscape types. The Common Vole (Microtus arvalis), considered to be an important agricultural pest was the most numerous prey in all landscape groups. The trophic niche of Barn Owl varied between 0.69 – 0.86 at the local level, and the overall value of niche breadth was significantly higher in the urban than in the other two landscape types. Our results showed that the increase of Common Vole frequency lead to a decrease in niche breadth; significantly negative relationship was detected between these parameters. Despite differences in niche breadth, similarly high niche overlaps were detected by the randomisation test in the three landscapes. Our results suggest that the diet composition of Barn Owls, mainly their food-niche pattern, reflected prey availability in the comparison of the studied landscapes, which pointed out that it is necessary to examine the dietary difference of Barn Owls at the finer scale of land use.

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