Research Article: Temporal and Spatial Scales Matter: Circannual Habitat Selection by Bird Communities in Vineyards

Date Published: February 1, 2017

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Claire Guyot, Raphaël Arlettaz, Pius Korner, Alain Jacot, Roberto Ambrosini.


Vineyards are likely to be regionally important for wildlife, but we lack biodiversity studies in this agroecosystem which is undergoing a rapid management revolution. As vine cultivation is restricted to arid and warm climatic regions, biodiversity-friendly management would promote species typical of southern biomes. Vineyards are often intensively cultivated, mostly surrounded by few natural features and offering a fairly mineral appearance with little ground vegetation cover. Ground vegetation cover and composition may further strongly vary with respect to season, influencing patterns of habitat selection by ecological communities. We investigated season-specific bird-habitat associations to highlight the importance of semi-natural habitat features and vineyard ground vegetation cover throughout the year. Given that avian habitat selection varies according to taxa, guilds and spatial scale, we modelled bird-habitat associations in all months at two spatial scales using mixed effects regression models. At the landscape scale, birds were recorded along 10 1-km long transects in Southwestern Switzerland (February 2014 –January 2015). At the field scale, we compared the characteristics of visited and unvisited vineyard fields (hereafter called parcels). Bird abundance in vineyards tripled in winter compared to summer. Vineyards surrounded by a greater amount of hedges and small woods harboured higher bird abundance, species richness and diversity, especially during the winter season. Regarding ground vegetation, birds showed a season-specific habitat selection pattern, notably a marked preference for ground-vegetated parcels in winter and for intermediate vegetation cover in spring and summer. These season-specific preferences might be related to species-specific life histories: more insectivorous, ground-foraging species occur during the breeding season whereas granivores predominate in winter. These results highlight the importance of investigating habitat selection at different spatial scales and all along the annual cycle in order to draw practical, season-specific management recommendations for promoting avian biodiversity in farmland.

Partial Text

To counteract ongoing farmland biodiversity erosion, a wealth of evidence-based knowledge has been gathered during the last decades about wildlife in agroecosystems. Restoring farmland biodiversity requires information on the ecological requirements of different species at multiple spatial and temporal scales to capture the dynamics and resource needs of entire communities [1,2].

In total, we recorded 8719 individuals from 4421 observations (excluding pseudo-absences) belonging to 66 bird species within the 100-m buffer of all transects. At the field scale, 886 individuals from 298 presence parcels totalling 29 species were recorded (see S2 Table for species list), together with 291 corresponding pseudo-absence parcels and random points (in a very few cases, the same pseudo-absence parcel was paired to more than one surrounding presence parcel during the same survey).

Several key findings emerged from this study with respect to the use of vineyards by birds at different spatial scales throughout the year. Overall, bird abundance, species richness and diversity were greater in winter than in summer. At the landscape scale, grove cover (hedges and woody patches) positively influenced bird abundance, species richness and diversity, especially in winter. At the field scale, ground vegetation cover, which undergoes much seasonal variation, appears to constitute the most crucial habitat feature for the avifauna. Finally, bird species-habitat associations also greatly varied according to taxon (thrushes, finches), highlighting the need to consider the distinct resource needs of different guilds if not species, which bears a high relevance for drawing management recommendations for bird-friendly vineyards. While these results originate from only 10 transects and a single region in Switzerland, we are confident that the importance of natural structures and ground vegetation as well as the seasonal variability in habitat selection patterns can be generalized to at least vineyards from other regions [43,50–53] and potentially to other perennial crops such as orchards (e.g. [6,11,71]), if not even to other agroecosystems (e.g. [13,15,24,32,34,72]).