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25 January 2021 Barn Owls select uncultivated habitats for hunting in a winegrape growing region of California
Xerónimo A. Castañeda, Allison E. Huysman, Matthew D. Johnson
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Abstract

Large-scale conversion of uncultivated land to agriculture threatens wildlife and can diminish ecosystem services provided by nature. Understanding how wildlife provision ecosystem services may incentivize wildlife conservation in agricultural landscapes. Attracting Barn Owls (Tyto furcata) to nest on farms for pest management has been implemented worldwide but has not been evaluated in vineyard agroecosystems. Napa Valley, California, is a renowned winegrape growing region, and viticulturists encourage Barn Owl occupancy to help minimize damage from Botta's pocket gophers (Thomomys bottae) and voles (Microtus spp.). This study modeled the use of habitats in space and time by hunting Barn Owls, providing information about their potential to provide the critical ecosystem service of pest consumption. We used global positioning system tags to track hunting owls and used a resource selection function to compare used and available habitats. We constructed the intensity of use and home range-movement maps using a time local convex hull analysis from location data. We found that Barn Owls selected uncultivated habitats when hunting, some of which were relatively rare on the landscape. Approximately, one-third of Barn Owl hunting locations occurred in vineyards, but this use was out of proportion to the availability of vineyards, which comprised 50% of the area around nest boxes. The owls' use of vineyards increased with decreasing amount of selected uncultivated habitat in the landscape. However, as reported by a previous study, the occupancy of nest boxes in vineyards increases with uncultivated habitats nearby. Future research should model landscape composition to determine the amount of preferred habitat necessary to support occupancy as well as hunting in vineyards. A true test of pest management by Barn Owls awaits experimentation coupled with monitoring rodent populations.

LAY SUMMARY

  • Agricultural landscapes are composed of a variety of habitats, both cultivated and uncultivated, and it is vital to understand how wildlife use these areas, especially for predatory birds that may help control agricultural pests.

  • We used Global Positioning System telemetry to examine the selection of habitats for hunting by Barn Owls breeding in nest boxes in winegrape vineyards.

  • Barn Owls selected uncultivated habitats, such as oak savanna, riparian forest, and grasslands for hunting, some of which were relatively rare on the landscape.

  • Nonetheless, approximately, one-third of Barn Owl hunting locations occurred in vineyards, suggesting their predation of rodent pests could be useful for farmers.

Copyright © American Ornithological Society 2021. All rights reserved. For permissions, e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com.
Xerónimo A. Castañeda, Allison E. Huysman, and Matthew D. Johnson "Barn Owls select uncultivated habitats for hunting in a winegrape growing region of California," Ornithological Applications 123(1), 1-15, (25 January 2021). https://doi.org/10.1093/ornithapp/duaa058
Received: 30 November 2019; Accepted: 19 August 2020; Published: 25 January 2021
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KEYWORDS
ecosystem service
habitat heterogeneity
habitat selection
habitat use
pest Management
Tyto furcata
vineyard
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