Owls' Responses to Environmental Challenges

A special issue of Animals (ISSN 2076-2615). This special issue belongs to the section "Wildlife".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 October 2023) | Viewed by 16023

Special Issue Editor


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Guest Editor
Luontotutkimus Solonen Oy, Neitsytsaarentie 7b B 147, 0096 Helsinki, Finland
Interests: birds of prey; predator-prey interactions; environmental changes

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Environmental changes due to anthropogenic habitat loss, fragmentation, and deterioration caused, in particular, by agriculture, forestry, and urbanization, as well as ongoing climate change, set considerable challenges for all kinds of organisms. Though some species may benefit from the environmental changes, others may fall to the verge of local or even global extinction. Some species may survive due to their capacity to more or less adapt to changing environmental conditions. 

Owls are a group of predatory birds characterized by their largely nocturnal way of life. They are commonly dependent on an annually widely fluctuating food supply, in particular small microtines. Some species of owls prefer old forests that provide tree hollows or other suitable nest sites, while other species occupy open habitats that provide, at least from time to time, plenty of suitable prey. Owls have two main living strategies. Some species are strictly stationary, while some others are nomads, continuously searching for areas of rich food supply to settle down. As distributions shift and population densities change, new species interactions result in changes to competition and predation. Due to their wide habitat spectrum and being near the top of their food chains, owls have the potential to serve as indicators of various environmental changes.

For this Special Issue, we welcome original articles and reviews focusing on the adaptability of owls to all kinds of environmental changes, including habitat alterations and climate change. Both direct and indirect effects of climate change on habitat and food availability of owl populations are of interest.

Dr. Tapio Solonen
Guest Editor

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Keywords

  • abundance fluctuations
  • breeding
  • climate change
  • competition
  • habitat alterations
  • nest site availability
  • phenology
  • population trends
  • predation
  • prey supply

Published Papers (8 papers)

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Editorial

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3 pages, 162 KiB  
Editorial
Owls’ Responses to Environmental Challenges
by Tapio Solonen
Animals 2024, 14(6), 880; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani14060880 - 13 Mar 2024
Viewed by 682
Abstract
Owls are a group of predatory birds characterized by their largely nocturnal way of life [...] Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Owls' Responses to Environmental Challenges)

Research

Jump to: Editorial

14 pages, 2896 KiB  
Article
Little Owl Aggression and Territory in Urban and Rural Landscapes
by Grzegorz Grzywaczewski, Federico Morelli and Piotr Skórka
Animals 2024, 14(2), 267; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani14020267 - 15 Jan 2024
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1275
Abstract
Urbanization is a major land use change across the globe with vast effects on wildlife. In this paper, we studied (1) the territorial displays of Little Owls in urban and rural landscapes, analyzing also (2) the size and habitat composition of the territories, [...] Read more.
Urbanization is a major land use change across the globe with vast effects on wildlife. In this paper, we studied (1) the territorial displays of Little Owls in urban and rural landscapes, analyzing also (2) the size and habitat composition of the territories, and (3) the factors affecting territory size in both landscapes. To do that, we used t-tests, Principal Components Analysis, and General Linear mixed model procedures. The territory size was smaller in urban than in rural landscapes. Urban territories of Little Owls are characterized by a lower cover of grassland, tall crops, short crops, gardens, and orchards, as well as a higher cover of built-up areas than territories in rural landscapes. Territory size in rural landscapes was negatively correlated with seasonal progress and positively correlated with altitude. The rate of territorial displays was similar between urban and rural territories; however, birds differentially utilized various structures. In urban territories, birds mostly used buildings, whereas in rural territories, birds used electric pylons and trees. The compositional differences between territories in the two landscapes may have important consequences for other behavior types and possibly reproductive output in this species. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Owls' Responses to Environmental Challenges)
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25 pages, 7827 KiB  
Article
Climate Change Habitat Model Forecasts for Eight Owl Species in the Southwestern US
by Jean-Luc E. Cartron, F. Jack Triepke, Dale W. Stahlecker, David P. Arsenault, Joseph L. Ganey, Charles D. Hathcock, Hunter K. Thompson, Matthieu C. Cartron and Kenneth C. Calhoun
Animals 2023, 13(24), 3770; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani13243770 - 6 Dec 2023
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 1380
Abstract
The high-resolution forecasting of vegetation type shifts may prove essential in anticipating and mitigating the impacts of future climate change on bird populations. Here, we used the US Forest Service Ecological Response Unit (ERU) classification to develop and assess vegetation-based breeding habitat profiles [...] Read more.
The high-resolution forecasting of vegetation type shifts may prove essential in anticipating and mitigating the impacts of future climate change on bird populations. Here, we used the US Forest Service Ecological Response Unit (ERU) classification to develop and assess vegetation-based breeding habitat profiles for eight owl species occurring in the foothills and mountains of the Southwestern US. Shifts in mapped habitat were forecast using an ecosystem vulnerability model based on the pre-1990 climate envelopes of ERUs and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) A1B moderate-emission scenario for the future climate. For five of the eight owl species, the regional breeding habitat extent was projected to decline by at least 60% by 2090. Three species, the boreal owl (Aegolius funereus; at the trailing edge of its distribution), flammulated owl (Psiloscops flammeolus), and northern pygmy-owl (Glaucidium gnoma), were projected to experience the steepest habitat loss rates of 85%, 85%, and 76%, respectively. Projected vegetation shifts overlaid with well-documented flammulated owl breeding populations showed the complete or near complete loss of habitat by 2090 in areas of montane forest currently supporting dense aggregations of owl territories. Generalist or lower-elevation owl species were predicted to be less impacted, while, for the whiskered screech-owl (Megascops trichopsis), the contraction of the current habitat was nearly offset by a projected northward expansion. In general, the results of this study suggest high exposure to climate change impacts for the upper-elevation forest owls of semi-arid Southwestern North America. Long-distance migration and low natal philopatry may prove important to some montane owl populations in adapting to the regional loss of habitat. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Owls' Responses to Environmental Challenges)
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16 pages, 2857 KiB  
Article
Environmental Niche Modelling Predicts a Contraction in the Potential Distribution of Two Boreal Owl Species under Different Climate Scenarios
by Kristina Cerman, Draženko Rajković, Biljana Topić, Goran Topić, Peter Shurulinkov, Tomaž Mihelič and Juan D. Delgado
Animals 2022, 12(22), 3226; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12223226 - 21 Nov 2022
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 2222
Abstract
Studying current and future geographic distribution is essential for conserving endangered species such as the Boreal Owl and Eurasian Pygmy Owl. The main aim of this study was to determine the potential distribution of both species in the Balkan Peninsula by using spatial [...] Read more.
Studying current and future geographic distribution is essential for conserving endangered species such as the Boreal Owl and Eurasian Pygmy Owl. The main aim of this study was to determine the potential distribution of both species in the Balkan Peninsula by using spatial distribution models (SDMs) in MaxEnt. We used data from field surveys, the scientific and grey literature, and an online database. We considered the current time and two future periods, 2041–2060 and 2061–2080. For future periods, we included different climate scenarios (SSP 126, 245, 370, and 585) in studying the potential geographic distribution of both species. We identified two types of potential future refugia for species: in situ and ex situ. Our study shows the highly suitable area for the Boreal Owl increased during the 2041–2060 period compared with the current area in all scenarios, except in SSP 585. However, during the 2061–2080 period, the highly suitable areas contracted. For the Eurasian Pygmy Owl, highly suitable areas decreased during 2041–2060, but during the 2061–2080 period, it was larger than the current area. Our study is of importance for conservation and preserving areas of potential distribution and refugia for Boreal and Eurasian Pygmy Owls in the face of climate change. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Owls' Responses to Environmental Challenges)
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9 pages, 1583 KiB  
Article
Body Condition in the Tawny Owl Strix aluco near the Northern Limit of Its Range: Effects of Individual Characteristics and Environmental Conditions
by Tapio Solonen
Animals 2022, 12(20), 2843; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12202843 - 19 Oct 2022
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 1070
Abstract
The body condition of boreal species of vole-eaters seems to vary largely according to fluctuations in vole populations and weather conditions of the preceding winter. I studied females and males of the Tawny Owl Strix aluco of temperate origin near the northern limit [...] Read more.
The body condition of boreal species of vole-eaters seems to vary largely according to fluctuations in vole populations and weather conditions of the preceding winter. I studied females and males of the Tawny Owl Strix aluco of temperate origin near the northern limit of the species’ range in southern Finland to reveal if they show similar patterns to the boreal species. Winter weather conditions before breeding seemed to have pronounced effects on the food availability of Tawny Owls. In females, intrinsic factors such as colour morph and age, as well as the body condition of the mate and the stage of the season (Julian date), governed body condition. In males, only age and Julian date showed pronounced relationships with body condition. The results suggest that deep snow cover protects vole populations through winter until spring better than a minor amount of snow and that frequent temperature fluctuations around the freezing point in early spring make voles more available for owls that are preparing for breeding. This was also reflected positively in the body condition of female owls. Probably due to the efficient use of alternative prey, the effects of fluctuating vole populations on the body condition of Tawny Owls are, in general, only moderate. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Owls' Responses to Environmental Challenges)
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13 pages, 1267 KiB  
Article
Wind Farms and Power Lines Have Negative Effects on Territory Occupancy in Eurasian Eagle Owls (Bubo bubo)
by Magne Husby and Martin Pearson
Animals 2022, 12(9), 1089; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12091089 - 22 Apr 2022
Cited by 6 | Viewed by 3168
Abstract
Wind power is useful for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but the construction and operation might have negative effects on biodiversity. The purpose of this study was to investigate any effects of wind farm and power line construction on territory occupancy in the vulnerable [...] Read more.
Wind power is useful for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but the construction and operation might have negative effects on biodiversity. The purpose of this study was to investigate any effects of wind farm and power line construction on territory occupancy in the vulnerable Eurasian eagle owl. We investigated 48 eagle owl territories before and after the whole construction period and a short operation period with the use of sound meters. We found that territorial eagle owls within 4–5 km from the wind farm and power line construction disturbance left their territories to a significantly higher extent (41% reduction in the number of territories with eagle owls) compared with the eagle owls in territories further away (23% reduction). The distance from the nest site to the disturbance was significantly shorter for those territories that were abandoned compared with territories where the birds stayed. Possible reasons for this decline might be a higher mortality caused by collisions, desertion and avoidance of wind power areas caused by the noise and disturbance from their construction. In addition, there are possible indirect effects, for example reductions in prey species may force eagle owls to abandon their territories. The construction period lasted much longer than the period with active wind turbines and power lines in this investigation, but we cannot separate the effects of the two because the investigations were only possible in the eagle owl breeding season, and the wind turbines were activated shortly after the construction period. Our results imply that careful investigations are needed to detect the possible occurrence of eagle owls near any type of construction work. Studies of these territories should strongly influence how and when the construction work can be carried out, but more investigations are needed to find details about the influence of distance. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Owls' Responses to Environmental Challenges)
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17 pages, 4162 KiB  
Article
In Its Southern Edge of Distribution, the Tawny Owl (Strix aluco) Is More Sensitive to Extreme Temperatures Than to Rural Development
by Orr Comay, Efrayim Ezov, Yoram Yom-Tov and Tamar Dayan
Animals 2022, 12(5), 641; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12050641 - 3 Mar 2022
Cited by 7 | Viewed by 2045
Abstract
Populations at the warm edge of distribution are more genetically diverse, and at the same time are more susceptible to climate change. Between 1987–1996, we studied Tawny Owls in Israel, the species’ global southern edge of distribution and a country undergoing a rapid [...] Read more.
Populations at the warm edge of distribution are more genetically diverse, and at the same time are more susceptible to climate change. Between 1987–1996, we studied Tawny Owls in Israel, the species’ global southern edge of distribution and a country undergoing a rapid land cover transformation for over a century. To assess the potential impacts of land cover transformation, we modelled the species’ most suitable habitat and climate and analyzed how climate and habitat affected the nesting success and prey selection. Moreover, we monitored Tawny Owl juveniles’ survival and ontogeny from eggs to dietary independent young, to find out whether the Israeli population is a sink. While the species distribution model correctly predicted the Tawny Owl’s densest areas of occurrence, it failed to predict its occurrence in adjacent regions. The model also predicted that areas included in the species’ historical range remained suitable habitats. The number of fledglings increased with precipitation and in rural settings but was adversely affected by extreme temperatures. While voles dominated the diet in all habitats, the Tawny Owl’s diet is considerably more variable than other Israeli owls. Our results suggest that the Tawny Owl can adapt to rural-agricultural environments, but is susceptible to climate change. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Owls' Responses to Environmental Challenges)
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17 pages, 3240 KiB  
Article
Colonization of Urban Habitats: Tawny Owl Abundance Is Conditioned by Urbanization Structure
by Nerea Pagaldai, Juan Arizaga, María V. Jiménez-Franco and Iñigo Zuberogoitia
Animals 2021, 11(10), 2954; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11102954 - 13 Oct 2021
Cited by 8 | Viewed by 2285
Abstract
Natural habitats are being altered and destroyed worldwide due to urbanization, leading to a decrease in species abundance and richness. Nevertheless, some species, including tawny owls, have successfully colonized this novel habitat. Consequences at the population level have not been described; thus, our [...] Read more.
Natural habitats are being altered and destroyed worldwide due to urbanization, leading to a decrease in species abundance and richness. Nevertheless, some species, including tawny owls, have successfully colonized this novel habitat. Consequences at the population level have not been described; thus, our main objective was to describe the effects that urban structure have on the tawny owl population at local and landscape levels. Data were obtained from 527 survey points over 7 months in a large-scale owl survey in the Basque Country (northern Spain) in 2018. At the local scale, the interaction between forest and urban cover affected tawny owl abundance, the optimum being in medium forested areas. The interaction between urban cover and clumpiness index (urban patch distribution) showed a generally negative effect. At the landscape scale, its abundance decreased in complex-shaped urban patches and when distance between them was greater. In conclusion, at the local scale, when a minimal forest structure is present in urbanized areas, the species can exploit it. At the landscape scale, it prefers smaller urban towns to cities. Thinking ahead, the current tendency toward “green capitals” should benefit tawny owl populations. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Owls' Responses to Environmental Challenges)
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