Goshawks as superpredators (UK)

Superpredation and the direct and indirect consequences of the presence of ‘new’ species in a predator community: goshawk, buzzard, owls in Kielder Forest.

Kielder Forest

Sarah Hoy is a PhD student based at the University of Aberdeen within Professor Xavier Lambin’s research team. Natural Research is partly funding and co-supervising Sarah’s studies. The overall aim of this PhD project is to determine how the natural ‘addition’ of larger raptors (Goshawk and Buzzard) in an assemblage can affect the diversity, distribution, abundance, dynamics and demography of other species of raptor at the individual, population and community level. Although Kielder will be used as the model system for this study, the following hypotheses will also be investigated in other raptor assemblages as well, and the findings will then be evaluated in the context of other systems. The key knowledge gaps to be investigated in this project are:

1. What are the effects of superpredation on life history strategies of individuals?

2. What causes variation in the level (prevalence and frequency) of superpredatory interactions?

3. How does superpredation or the threat of predation alter the demography and behaviour of mesopredator species?

4. What is the role of superpredation in shaping raptor communities?

5. Do individual superpedators specialise in taking certain species?

6. Are superpredatory interactions opportunistic, if not what is causing them?

In investigating these hypotheses, Sarah’s studies will exploit the considerable databases that have been collected for over 30 years by past and present Forestry Commission (FC) staff, local Raptor Study Group members, and previous University of Aberdeen projects (Steve Petty, Martin Davison, Brian Little, Dave Anderson, Alex Millon, Xavier Lambin and Paul Hotchin). Sarah will also be undertaking novel fieldwork focussed on her research objectives, concentrating on the relationship between Tawny Owls and Northern Goshawks.

Kielder Forest, the largest man-made coniferous forest in UK and one of the largest in Europe is managed for timber production by FC. It covers an area approximately 650km² and together with several other man-made coniferous forests it forms the much larger ‘Border Forests’. Despite its continually changing structure Kielder is home to at least 10 species of raptor and owl; Northern Goshawk, Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Merlin, Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Osprey, Tawny Owl, Long-eared Owl and Barn Owl. Short-eared owls used to breed in the forest but have not been recorded since 2003; however many breeding pairs are still being recorded elsewhere in the county. 

Sarah Hoy's PhD can be seen here Sarah Hoy Thesis

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