Positive interactions between vulnerable species in agrarian pseudo-steppes: habitat use by pin-tailed sandgrouse depends on its association with the little bustard


Carlos A. Martín, Instituto de Investigación en Recursos Cinegéticos, IREC (CSIC-UCLM-JCCM), Ronda de Toledo s/n, E-13071 Ciudad Real, Spain. Tel: +34 926 295 450; Fax: +34 926 295 451
Email: carlosalfonso.martin@uclm.es


Positive interactions between species can have important conservation implications, especially when the species associating are both vulnerable. We studied the habitat use of pin-tailed sandgrouses Pterocles alchata and their association with another vulnerable species, the little bustard Tetrax tetrax in agrarian pseudo-steppes of central Spain using radio-tracking. The occurrence of mixed-species flocks varied seasonally, being more frequent in winter (65% of pin-tailed sandgrouse flocks). In this season, pin-tailed sandgrouses preferred stubble fields and fallows. Moreover, we found that habitat selection of pin-tailed sandgrouse depended on the association with little bustards in mixed-species flocks. When in mixed-species groups, sandgrouses changed their agrarian substrate preferences, and used stubble fields significantly more often than when in sandgrouse-only flocks. We also provide evidence that pin-tailed sandgrouse benefited from the anti-predator vigilance of little bustards, allowing sandgrouse to exploit new feeding grounds (stubble fields) that would otherwise be too risky to exploit. Our results indicate a close positive association between these two species, which are both declining in Europe, and we discuss implications for their management and conservation. We also recommend taking into account inter-specific positive interactions when designing conservation strategies for threatened species.