Journal article

Adaptability of a specialist predator: The effects of land use on diet diversification and breeding performance of Verreaux’s eagles

Research Areas

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Publication Details

Author list: Murgatroyd M, Avery G, Underhill LG, Amar A

Publisher: Wiley

Publication year: 2016

Journal: Journal of Avian Biology

Volume number: 47

Start page: 001

End page: 012

Total number of pages: 12

ISSN: 0908-8857

eISSN: 1600-048X



Specialist predators are generally negatively impacted by habitat change. Predators that

inhabit transformed areas are usually forced to diversify their diet and this departure

away from traditional resources can have negative consequences for fitness and

demographic parameters. We consider this relationship as it applies to Verreaux’s

eagles Aquila verreauxii, which is typically considered to be a highly specialised

predator of hyraxes (Procavia and Heterohyrax spp.). We investigate diet in relation to

land cover in two adjacent areas of South Africa and explore the links between diet

diversity, the percentage of hyrax consumed, and the breeding performance of eagles.

We also examine these same patterns using data from other studies. We found that diet

diversity was greater in the agriculturally developed Sandveld region compared to the

natural Cederberg region. Proportions of the three main prey types were correlated with

the proportion of agriculturally developed land around the nest site. Breeding

performance was correlated with the diet, but not in the manner expected, with breeding

productivity being greater in regions with large diet diversity and a small proportion of

hyrax in the diet. We found similar patterns when placing our results into a broader

geographical context using other dietary studies of Verreaux’s eagles, suggesting our

results were not unique to our study system. Thus, our results suggest that diet

diversification does not necessarily impinge on breeding performance in the presence of

adequate alternative prey resources. This research adds to the growing number of

studies suggesting that some predators may be adaptable up to a threshold level of

habitat transformation. These results have implications for predicting changes on such

species by anthropogenic habitat transformation and highlight the potential for

agriculturally developed areas to maintain a conservation value when habitat

heterogeneity is maintained.


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Last updated on 2017-18-08 at 15:35