The role of forest maturation in causing the decline of Black Grouse Tetrao tetrix

Authors


*Corresponding author.
Email: james.pearce-higgins@rspb.org.uk

Abstract

Black Grouse Tetrao tetrix in Britain have declined through the 20th century, and most birds are now in Scotland. Many causes for this decline have been suggested, notably agricultural intensification, increased grazing levels and moorland afforestation. We examine habitat correlates of Black Grouse distribution and population change from a 700-km2 area in the core of the Scottish range, where the numbers of lekking male Black Grouse declined by an estimated 70% to 270 between 1990 and 2002. Habitat data were derived from satellite imagery, in combination with map and field-collected data. Lek occurrence, lek size and changes in lek size were all correlated with forest structure, either positively with the amount of pre-thicket forest cover, or negatively with closed canopy cover. Additional effects of the cover of grass moor and dry heath suggest that Black Grouse are most likely to occur where moorland comprises Heather Calluna vulgaris and grass mosaics. Analysis of the change in Black Grouse abundance within 1.5 km of discrete forest blocks suggests that forest maturation, which has been the dominant habitat change during the course of the study, alone accounts for 58–78% of the decline. Given the close association of Black Grouse and the occurrence of woodland (and particularly conifer plantation) throughout much of their British range, these findings can be used to inform the design of management schemes for the recovery of Black Grouse.

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