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Ecological factors and human threats both drive wildfowl population declines

Authors


Correspondence
Peter R. Long, Department of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Bath, Claverton Down, Bath BA2 7AY, UK. Tel: +44 (0)1225 384238
Email: p.r.long@bath.ac.uk

Abstract

Many wildfowl species are declining and 34 out of 159 extant species are globally threatened, some of which are the subject of specific conservation programmes. Here we investigate which factors predict declining population trends across 154 species of Anseriformes. First we show that there are proportionately fewer declining wildfowl populations in North America, Europe and Australasia than in south and central America, Africa and Asia. Second, we use phylogenetic comparative analyses to test whether population size, global range size and ecological, life-history and sexually-selected traits predict population trends. We also consider anthropogenic threats, and human impacts within the breeding and non-breeding ranges of species. Using phylogenetically independent contrasts we show that small population size and small global ranges are the most important intrinsic factors that predispose wildfowl species to declining populations. Many wildfowl are hunted but, contrary to expectation, hunting did not influence population trends. Declining populations were associated with high International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) threat category, although the relationship is not very strong (r=0.134, n=129 contrasts) possibly because the IUCN criteria integrate population size, range size and an assessment of threat. Two extrinsic factors were significant predictors of population declines: the increase in area of agricultural land within a species' range (an indirect measure of wetland loss), and the total number of different threat processes such as habitat loss and pollution that threaten a species. Taken together, our results strongly suggest that both anthropogenic threats and intrinsic ecological factors are influencing population declines in wildfowl.

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