Evidence for the indirect effects of pesticides on farmland birds


*Corresponding author.
Email: n.boatman@csl.gov.uk


Indirect effects of pesticides, operating through the food chain, have been proposed as a possible causal factor in the decline of farmland bird species. To demonstrate such a link, evidence is needed of (1) an effect of food abundance on breeding performance or survival; (2) an effect of breeding performance or survival on population change; and (3) pesticide effects on food resources, sufficient to reduce breeding performance or survival, and hence to affect the rate of population change. Evidence under all three categories is only available for one species, the Grey Partridge Perdix perdix, although data showing effects of pesticides on food resources and relationships between food resources and breeding performance are also available for some other species. This paper reports on recent work investigating the effects of pesticides on Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella and Skylark Alauda arvensis during the breeding season. The probability of brood reduction in Yellowhammer was affected by the proportion of the foraging area around the nest which was sprayed with insecticide. No significant effects of pesticides were recorded on Skylark chick condition or growth rate, but sample sizes were small. Invertebrate food abundance affected chick condition (Skylark) and the number of chicks fledging (Yellowhammer and Corn Bunting Miliaria calandra; relationship for the latter derived from re-analysis of data from an earlier study). Other recent work is briefly reviewed and the current evidence for the indirect effects of pesticides is summarized. Significant knowledge gaps are identified and some of the issues involved in resolving these are discussed.