Predator abundance in relation to small game management in southern Portugal: conservation implications

TitlePredator abundance in relation to small game management in southern Portugal: conservation implications
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsBeja, P., Gordinho L., Reino L., Loureiro F., Santos-Reis M., & Borralho R.
JournalEuropean Journal of Wildlife Research
Keywordsbirds of prey, carnivores, conservation conflict, hunting, predator control

The interaction between hunting interests and legally protected predators is often a contentious conservation problem, requiring detailed understanding of predator responses to game management. This issue was addressed in southern Portugal in a treatment-control natural experiment, whereby the abundances of small game, corvids, birds of prey and carnivores were compared in 12 game estates (>500 ha) and 12 matching areas with similar sizes and land uses but no gamemanagement. European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus), Iberian hares (Lepus granatensis) and, less so, red-legged partridges (Alectoris rufa) were far more numerous in game estates than elsewhere. Among legally controlled species, there were less Eurasian jays (Garrulus glandarius) but more red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) in game estates, though the latter were primary targets of predator culling. Fox abundance within game estates varied inversely with an index of management intensity (density of small game feeding sites) and increased along with hare abundance. As for protected species, only common kestrels (Falco tinnunculus) and genets (Genetta genetta) were fewer in game estates. The abundance of raptors within game estates varied inversely with gamekeeper density, whereas that of common buzzards (Buteo buteo) increased along with rabbit abundance. Overall, there was little evidence that game management reduced local predator abundances, except in the most intensively managed estates. Game estates provided concentrations of prey that was scarce elsewhere, which may have favoured increased abundances of some predators. Further investigations are needed to find out whether high prey densities may attract predators to game estates with increased mortality risk, which may thus become population sinks for protected species.