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A prominent threat to European vultures has been sanitary regulations that banned the disposal of livestock carcasses. Changes in food abundance following these regulations have been associated with changes in vulture behaviour and demographic parameters, but to what extent diet changes are responsible for population declines is poorly understood. The Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus is the smallest and most threatened European vulture species and has an opportunistic and diverse diet. In Eastern Europe, the Egyptian Vulture population is declining more rapidly than elsewhere but there is little information on diet composition and the relationship between diet and demographic parameters to inform conservation management. We examined whether Egyptian Vulture population declines in Bulgaria and Greece may have been associated with diet changes that affected breeding productivity by monitoring breeding success and collecting diet remains from 143 Egyptian Vulture breeding attempts between 2006 and 2013. We found no relationship between diet diversity or composition and productivity. However, there was a significant relationship between occupancy rate of territories and diet diversity, indicating that occupancy rate decreased with a very diverse or a very narrow diet and a higher proportion of wild animals or a lower proportion of livestock in the diet. There was no temporal change in diet diversity in Bulgaria after admission to the EU in 2007. We conclude that it is unlikely that diet limitations on reproductive output are a critical threat to Egyptian Vultures on the Balkan Peninsula. The relationship between diet diversity and territory occupancy rate may indicate that adult birds with a very narrow or a very broad diet may be more susceptible to consuming poisoned carcasses, and more information on the effect of diet availability on adult and juvenile survival would be useful to inform and improve conservation management actions.
The Egyptian Vulture has been classified as ‘Endangered’ due to a rapid population decline in India and long term declines in Europe and Africa. Although the species has been reported to be declining in Eastern Europe, no quantitative assessment of the magnitude or the causes for population declines are available. We used monitoring data from the Balkan Peninsula to estimate changes in population size and extent of occurrence of Egyptian Vultures between 1980 and 2013. We quantified population trends in three countries (Bulgaria, Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic [FYR] of Macedonia) to assess whether population declines are similar within the Balkan range states. We found a rapid and consistent decline of the Egyptian Vulture population that was largely similar among the three countries (λ = 0.940 in FYR of Macedonia, 0.951 in Bulgaria, 0.920 in Greece). As a consequence of population declines, the breeding range of Egyptian Vultures has contracted and the population in the Balkan Peninsula has fragmented into six subpopulations separated by more than 80 km. Population declines may be driven by factors such as poisoning, electrocution, direct persecution and changes in food availability which operate at large spatial scales and affect birds both on breeding grounds as well as during migration and wintering. Because the relative importance of threats to the survival of Egyptian Vultures are poorly understood, there is a critical need for research into causes of mortality and potential conservation actions that may halt and reverse population declines.
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