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Keywords:

  • agriculture;
  • diseases;
  • game management;
  • gamebird;
  • hunting;
  • predation

Knowledge of intrinsic and extrinsic factors associated with survival rates and the underlying causes of mortality is essential to understand both population dynamics and the causes of population declines. We studied the influence of habitat variables and body condition on survival of 151 radio-tracked Red-legged Partridges Alectoris rufa in four areas of Spain, representing a gradient from natural unmanaged areas to highly managed areas. We examined the effects of differences in game management practices, and seasonal and geographical variations in survival and causes of mortality over 4 years, from 1999 to 2002. Monthly survival rate was consistently over 90% for both sexes in the natural area. However, in two areas managed intensively for both hunting and agriculture, survival was low during the hunting period (72% for females and 79% for males), high during the breeding period for males (99%), and intermediate for females (89%) due mainly to diseases. Hunting was the main cause of Red-legged Partridge mortality in both hunting areas where driven partridge shooting was performed, affecting 50% of radio-tagged individuals, and was the main cause of mortality over all areas during both breeding and hunting periods. Disease was the next most common cause of mortality in managed areas, affecting mostly females during the breeding period, whereas predation was the main cause of mortality in unmanaged populations. Finally, we compared the habitat associations and body condition of living and dead individuals with varying causes of mortality. In general, high survival rates were associated with diverse vegetation, habitat edges and a good body condition index. Habitat diversity and a high edge index were also negatively associated with mortality due to predation and diseases. On the other hand, hunting mortality decreased with the proportion of scrubland and increased with the proportion of agricultural land. These results suggest that preventing declines of wild Red-legged Partridge populations might best be achieved by increasing landscape complexity and connectivity, and promoting game management practices to limit both partridge bags and long-term densities.