BACKGROUND: Ecologically based rodent pest management using biological control has never been evaluated for vole plagues in Europe, although it has been successfully tested in other systems. The authors report on the first large-scale replicated experiment to study the usefulness of nest-box installation for increasing the breeding density of common kestrels (Falco tinnunculus) and barn owls (Tyto alba) as a potential biological control of common vole (Microtus arvalis) abundance in agricultural habitats in north-western Spain.
RESULTS: The results show that: (1) population density of both predator species increased in response to both nest-site availability and vole density; (2) voles are a major prey for the common kestrels during the breeding period; (3) vole density during the increase phase of a population cycle may be reduced in crop fields near nest boxes.
CONCLUSION: The installation of nest boxes provides nesting sites for barn owls and kestrels. Kestrel populations increased faster than in areas without artificial nests, and the common vole was one of their main prey during the breeding season. The results suggest that local (field) effects could be found in terms of reduced vole density. If so, this could be an environmentally friendly and cheap vole control technique to be considered on a larger scale. © 2012 Society of Chemical Industry