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Climate influences productivity but not breeding density of wedge‐tailed eagles Aquila audax in arid and mesic Western Australia

Cherriman, S.C., Fleming, P.A.ORCID: 0000-0002-0626-3851, Shephard, J.M. and Olsen, P.D. (2021) Climate influences productivity but not breeding density of wedge‐tailed eagles Aquila audax in arid and mesic Western Australia. Austral Ecology . Early View.

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Long-term studies are required to reveal responses by long-lived, top-order predator populations to ongoing seasonal fluctuations. However, such investigations are rare in the Australian context. Between 2009 and 2019, the breeding density and productivity of an arid and a mesic wedge-tailed eagle Aquila audax population, each occupying an area of 2800 km2, were compared (11–98 pairs monitored annually). Breeding pairs spaced themselves evenly in both study areas, with no significant difference between the average arid zone nearest-neighbour distance of 5.32 ± 1.98 km (n = 44) and that determined for the mesic zone (4.88 ± 2.32 km, n = 54). This similarity in spacing suggests a maximum average density is tolerated by these territorial raptors. By contrast, annual breeding success (proportion of pairs fledging young) and productivity (fledged young per pair) differed significantly between the two populations, with rainfall (but not temperature) influencing reproduction. In the arid zone, the proportion of successful pairs per occupied breeding home range was consistently low each year (mean = 12 ± 7% fledged broods per pair, range 0–26%) and positively correlated with annual rainfall. In the mesic zone, it was consistently high each year (mean = 69 ± 9%, range 57–91%) and not significantly correlated with annual rainfall. Overall productivity figures showed similar differences, with 0.13 and 0.77 fledglings per pair per year for arid (n = 9 years) and mesic (n = 11 years) eagles, respectively. Such low arid zone productivity, the lowest ever recorded for the species, could have long-term implications in the face of the increased frequency of extreme weather events. That breeding density can be independent of climatic factors provides new insight into the way a large Aquila species integrates with Australia’s predominantly arid environment. This study provides an important baseline data set for continued research on long-term occupancy and productivity trends.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Centre for Climate-Impacted Terrestrial Ecosystems
Harry Butler Institute
Publisher: Blackwell Publishing Inc
Copyright: © 2021 Ecological Society of Australia
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