Skip to main content Accessibility help

Coarse landscape features predict occurrence, but habitat selection is driven by specific habitat traits: implications for the conservation of the threatened Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator

  • MATTIA BRAMBILLA (a1) (a2) (a3), MARCO GUSTIN (a1), EGIDIO FULCO (a4), ALBERTO SORACE (a1) (a5) and CLAUDIO CELADA (a1)...


Habitat selection has fundamental implications for species conservation, and in birds is often regarded as a multi-scale process. We investigated (under an information-theoretic approach) habitat selection by Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator in Italy (one of the most severely declining species in central and western Europe), considering five main types of potential determinants of shrike occurrence at the territory scale (1 ha): general structure (coarse landscape), woody vegetation, grassland habitats/bare ground, herbaceous crops, and management variables. The best supported models for species occurrence were those including general structure and woody vegetation traits. Variation partitioning suggested that overall, landscape general structure and woody vegetation explained the highest variation in shrike occurrence, and management the lowest. However, considering variation explained by only a single level, all levels performed nearly equally, but general structure did not explain an exclusive proportion of variation. A multi-level analysis suggested that shrike occurrence was eventually associated with specific habitat traits: isolated trees, shrubland and (secondarily) olive groves (all with positive effects), and dirt roads (negative effect). The most parsimonious multi-level models included only variables from woody vegetation and management traits, suggesting that the likely true determinants of species occurrence are highly specific and fine-scale habitat traits, consistent with variation partitioning. Woodchat Shrikes inhabit semi-open landscapes, within which they are attracted to shrubland and isolated trees (secondarily to olive groves) and avoid dirt roads. Suitable habitat conditions for the species depend on a trade-off between abandonment and intensive farming, and rural development programmes may be crucial for the conservation (or loss) of such conditions.


Corresponding author

*Author for correspondence; e-mail:


Hide All
Arnold, T. W. (2010) Uninformative parameters and model selection using Akaike’s information criterion. J. Wildl. Managt. 74: 11751178.
Bartoń, K. (2014) Package ‘MuMIn’.
Battin, J. and Lawler, J. T. (2006) Cross-scale correlations and the design and analysis of avian habitat selection studies. Condor 108: 5970.
Benton, T. G., Bryant, D. M., Cole, L. and Crick, H. Q. P. (2002) Linking agricultural practice to insect and bird populations: A historical study over three decades. J. Appl. Ecol. 39: 673687.
Benton, T. G., Vickery, J. A. and Wilson, J. D. (2003) Farmland biodiversity: Is habitat heterogeneity the key? Trends Ecol. Evol. 18: 182188.
BirdLife International (2015) European Red List of Birds. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.
Birrer, S., Spiess, M., Herzog, F., Jenny, M., Kohli, L. and Lugrin, B. (2007) The Swiss agri-environment scheme promotes farmland birds: but only moderately. J. Ornithol. 148 Suppl. 2: 295303.
Brambilla, M. (2015) Landscape traits can contribute to range limit equilibrium: habitat constraints refine potential range of an edge population of Black-headed Bunting Emberiza melanocephala . Bird Study 62: 132136.
Brambilla, M. and Rubolini, D. (2009) Intra-seasonal changes in distribution and habitat associations of a multi-brooded bird species: implications for conservation planning. Anim. Conserv. 12: 7177.
Brambilla, M., Bassi, E., Ceci, C. and Rubolini, D. (2010a) Environmental factors affecting patterns of distribution and co-occurrence of two competing raptor species. Ibis 152: 310322.
Brambilla, M., Casale, F., Bergero, V., Bogliani, G, Crovetto, G. M., Falco, R., Roati, M. and Negri, I. (2010b) Glorious past, uncertain present, bad future? Assessing effects of land-use changes on habitat suitability for a threatened farmland bird species. Biol. Conserv. 143: 27702778.
Brambilla, M., Casale, F., Bergero, V., Crovetto, G. M., Falco, R., Negri, I., Siccardi, P. and Bogliani, G. (2009a) GIS-models work well, but are not enough: Habitat preferences of Lanius collurio at multiple levels and conservation implications. Biol. Conserv. 142: 20332042.
Brambilla, M., Gustin, M. and Celada, C. (2013a) Species appeal predicts conservation status. Biol. Conserv. 160: 209213.
Brambilla, M., Falco, R. and Negri, I. (2012) A spatially explicit assessment of within-season changes in environmental suitability for farmland birds along an altitudinal gradient. Anim. Conserv. 15: 638647.
Brambilla, M., Fulco, E., Gustin, M. and Celada, C. (2013b) Habitat preferences of the threatened Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica in southern Italy. Bird Study 60: 432435.
Brambilla, M., Guidali, F. and Negri, I. (2009b) Breeding-season habitat associations of the declining Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra – a potential indicator of the overall bunting richness. Ornis Fennica 86: 4150.
Brambilla, M., Guidali, F. and Negri, I. (2008) The importance of an agricultural mosaic for Cirl Buntings Emberiza cirlus in Italy. Ibis 150: 628632.
Brambilla, M., Rubolini, D. and Guidali, F. (2006) Factors affecting breeding habitat selection in a cliff-nesting peregrine Falco peregrinus population. J. Ornithol. 147: 428435.
Brambilla, M., Rubolini, D. and Guidali, F. (2007) Between land abandonment and agricultural intensification: habitat preferences of Red-backed Shrikes Lanius collurio in low-intensity farming conditions. Bird Study 54: 160167.
Burnham, K. P. and Anderson, D. R. (2002) Model selection and multimodel inference: A practical information-theoretic approach. 2nd edition. New York, USA: Springer-Verlag.
Ceresa, F., Bogliani, G., Pedrini, P. and Brambilla, M. (2012) The importance of key marginal habitat features for birds in farmland: An assessment of habitat preferences of Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio in the Italian Alps. Bird Study 59: 327334.
Chamberlain, D. E., Fuller, R. J., Bunce, R. G. H., Duckworth, J. C. and Shrubb, M. (2000) Changes in the abundance of farmland birds in relation to the timing of agricultural intensification in England and Wales. J. Appl. Ecol. 37: 771788.
Chiatante, G. P., Brambilla, M. and Bogliani, G. (2014) Spatially explicit conservation issues for threatened bird species in Mediterranean farmland landscapes. J. Nat. Conserv. 22: 103112.
Cody, L. (1985) Habitat selection in birds. New York, USA: Academic Press.
Cramp, S. and Perrins, C. M., eds. (1993) The birds of the Western Palearctic (Vol. 7). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Donald, P. F., Green, R. E. and Heath, M. F. (2001) Agricultural intensification and the collapse of Europe’s farmland bird populations. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 268: 2529.
Donald, P. F., Sanderson, F. J., Burfield, I. J. and Van Bommel, F. P. (2006) Further evidence of continent-wide impacts of agricultural intensification on European farmland birds, 1990–2000. Agric. Ecosyst. Environ. 116: 189196.
Ficetola, G. F., Marziali, L., Rossaro, B., De Bernardi, F. and Padoa-Schioppa, E. (2011) Landscape-stream interactions and habitat conservation for amphibians. Ecol. Appl. 21: 12721282.
Filippi-Codaccioni, O., Devictor, V., Bas, Y. and Julliard, R. (2010) Toward more concern for specialisation and less for species diversity in conserving farmland biodiversity. Biol. Conserv. 143: 14931500.
Fuller, R. J., Gregory, R. D., Gibbons, D. W., Marchant, J. H., Wilson, J. D., Baillie, S. R., et al. (1995) Population declines and range contractions among lowland farmland birds in Britain. Conserv. Biol. 9: 14251441.
Guerrieri, G. and Castaldi, A. (2000) Selezione di habitat e riproduzione dell’averla capirossa, Lanius senator, nel Lazio – Italia Centrale. Avocetta 24: 8593.
Hall, L. S., Krausman, P. R. and Morrison, M. L. (1997) The habitat concept and a plea for standard terminology. Wildl. Soc. Bull. 25: 173182.
Harris, T. and Franklin, K. (2000) Shrikes and Bush-shrikes: Including wood-shrikes, helmet shrikes, flycatcher-shrikes, philentomas, batises and wattle-eyes. London, UK: Cristopher Helm, A&C Black.
Jedlikowski, J., Brambilla, M. and Suska-Malawska, M. (2014) Fine-scale selection of nesting habitat in Little Crake Porzana parva and Water Rail Rallus aquaticus in small ponds. Bird Study 61: 171181.
Johnson, D. H. (1980) The comparison of usage and availability of measurements for evaluating resource preference. Ecology 61: 6571.
Jones, J. (2001) Habitat selection studies in avian ecology: A critical review. Auk 118: 557562.
Krebs, J. R., Wilson, J. D., Bradbury, R. B. and Siriwardena, G. M. (1999) The second silent spring? Nature 400: 611612.
Lefranc, N. and Worfolk, T. (1997) Shrikes. A guide to the shrikes of the world. East Sussex, UK: Pica Press.
Morales, M. B., Guerrero, I., Onate, J. J. and Melendez, L. (2012) Inter-specific association and habitat use in a farmland passerine assemblage. Ecol. Res. 27: 691700.
Nardelli, R., Andreotti, A., Bianchi, E., Brambilla, M., Brecciaroli, B., Celada, C., Dupré, E., Gustin, M., Longoni, V., Pirrello, S., Spina, F., Volponi, S. and Serra, L. (2015) Rapporto sull’applicazione della Direttiva 147/2009/CE in Italia: dimensione, distribuzione e trend delle popolazioni di uccelli (2008-2013). Roma, Italy: ISPRA, Serie Rapporti, 219/2015.
Nikolov, S. C. (2010). Effects of land abandonment and changing habitat structure on avian assemblages in upland pastures of Bulgaria. Bird Conserv. Internatn. 20: 200213.
Nisoria (1994) Atlante degli uccelli nidificanti nella provincia di Vicenza. Vicenza, Italy: Gilberto Padovan.
Oksanen, J., Blanchet, F. G., Kindt, R., Legendre, P., Minchin, P. R., O’Hara, R. B., Simpson, G. L., Solymos, P., Stevens, M. H. M. and Wagner, H. (2013) vegan: Community Ecology Package. R package version 2.0-9.
Orians, G. H. and Wittenburger, J. F. (1991) Spatial and temporal scales in habitat selection. Am. Nat. 137(Suppl.): 5066.
Peronace, V., Cecere, J. G., Gustin, M, & Rondinini, C. (2012). Lista Rossa 2011 degli uccelli nidificanti in Italia. Avocetta 36: 1158.
Peres-Neto, P. R., Legendre, P., Dray, S. and Borcard, D. (2006) Variation partitioning of species data matrices: estimation and comparison of fractions. Ecology 87: 26142625.
Preiss, E., Martin, J. L. and Debussche, M. (1997) Rural depopulation and recent landscape changes in a Mediterranean region: consequences to the breeding avifauna. Landscape Ecol. 12: 5161.
R Development Core Team (2013) R: A language and environment for statistical computing. Vienna, Austria: R Foundation for Statistical Computing.
Radišić, D., Šćiban, M. and Spremo, N. (2008) Numbers, breeding density and habitat characteristics of Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator in Pčinja river valley. Ciconia 17: 2025. In Serbian with English summary.
Richards, S. A. (2005) Testing ecological theory using the information-theoretic approach: examples and cautionary results. Ecology 86: 28052814.
Rippa, D., Maselli, V., Soppelsa, O. and Fulgione, D. (2011) The impact of agro-pastoral abandonment on the Rock Partridge Alectoris graeca in the Apennines. Ibis 153: 721734.
Salvo, G. (2004) Dati sulla biologia riproduttiva dell’Averla capirossa, Lanius senator, in Sicilia. Riv. Ital. Orn. 74: 8385.
Schaub, M. (1996) Territory choice and settlement of Woodchat Shrikes Lanius senator in northern Switzerland. Ornithologische Beobachter 93: 163168.
Shochat, E., Abramsky, Z. and Pinshow, B. (2002) Breeding species diversity in the Negev: effect of scrub fragmentation by planted forests. J. Appl. Ecol. 38: 11351147.
Siriwardena, G. M., Baillie, S. R., Buckland, S. T., Fewster, R. M., Marchant, J. H. and Wilson, J. D. (1998) Trends in the abundance of farmland birds: a quantitative comparison of smoothed Common Birds Census indices. J. Appl. Ecol. 35: 2443.
Suarez-Seone, S., Orborne, P. E. and Baudry, P. E. (2002) Responses of birds of different biogeographic origins and habitat requirements to agricultural land abandonment in northern Spain. Biol. Conserv. 105: 333344.
Tucker, G. M. and Evans, M. I. (1997) Habitats for birds in Europe: A conservation strategy for the wider environment. Cambridge, UK: BirdLife International.
Vassilev, K., Pedashenko, H., Nikolov, S. C., Apostolova, I. and Dengler, J. (2011). Effect of land abandonment on the vegetation of upland semi-natural grasslands in the Western Balkan Mts., Bulgaria. Plant Biosystems 145: 654665.
Vickery, J. and Arlettaz, R. (2012) The importance of habitat heterogeneity at multiple scales for birds in European agricultural landscapes. Pp. 177–204 in: Fuller, R. J., ed. Birds and habitat. Relationships in changing landscapes. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed