Estimating the potential effects of pesticide seed treatments on the reproductive success of arable birds
Abstract In temperate zones, seeds of spring-sown crops may be an attractive food source for breeding farmland birds. We modelled the effects of pesticide seed treatments on the reproductive success of 4 UK arable bird species (Rook, Linnet, Skylark, Yellowhammer) exposed to treated seeds of 3 spring-sown crops (beans, barley and linseed). We ran three types of model, 1) a “broods-at-risk” model looking at the temporal overlap between nesting and seed-sowing dates, and estimating the proportion of those nests that suffered toxicity-exposure ratios Based on physiology, Rooks, should be less at risk from treated seeds than smaller species because bigger birds eat less as a proportion of their bodyweights. However, in nearly all our scenarios, Rooks were more vulnerable, followed by Skylark and Linnet, with Yellowhammer being least affected. A principal cause is that Rooks are more likely to be breeding at a time when treated seeds are being sown. Furthermore, whereas the other species may make several breeding attempts and early failures from pesticide exposure may be compensated by later successes, Rooks breed only once in a season. The results are also supported by historical evidence of Rook population declines following pesticide seed treatments. Highlights Crop drilling and breeding calendars affect modelled breeding success. Individual risk quotients may not translate into measures of population growth rate. Bird life history can drive ecological vulnerability to pesticides during breeding. Rooks were more ecologically vulnerable to pesticides than smaller bodied birds.
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