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Human footprint and vulture mortality

Events of non-natural mortality in human-dominated landscapes are especially challenging for populations of large vertebrates with K strategies. Among birds, vultures are one of the most threatened groups experiencing sharp population declines due to non-natural mortality. Factors causing non-natural mortality are usually studied separately. However, the potential use of an integrated index able to predict large-scale mortality risks of avian scavengers could be especially useful for planning conservation strategies. Here, the Human Footprint index was used to examine the impact of landscape anthropization on the survival rates of 66 GPS-tagged adult Eurasian griffon vultures (Gyps fulvus) in two Spanish regions. Foraging in more anthropized areas resulted in a significantly higher individual mortality risk mainly due to collisions with vehicles, poisonings, electrocutions and fatalities with wind turbines. Mean yearly survival rates were estimated at 0.817 and 0.968 for individuals from the more and less anthropized regions, respectively. Additional research should investigate whether some vulture populations could be acting as sinks unnoticed due to metapopulation dynamics. From a broader point of view, this study shows that a straightforward Human Footprint was a useful index to predict the survival of top scavengers and can be highly applicable to planning large-scale conservation measures. informacion[at] Arrondo et al (2020) Landscape anthropization shapes the survival of a top avian scavenger. Biodivers Conserv.
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Pheomelanin synthesis varies with protein food abundance in developing goshawks

Pheomelanin synthesis varies with protein food abundance in developing goshawks

The accumulation of the amino acid cysteine in lysosomes produces toxic substances, which are avoided by a gene (CTNS) coding for a transporter that pumps cystine out of lysosomes. Melanosomes are lysosome-related organelles that synthesize melanins, the most widespread pigments in animals. The synthesis of the orange melanin, termed pheomelanin, depends on cysteine levels because the sulfhydryl group is used to form the pigment. Pheomelanin synthesis may, therefore, be affected by cysteine homeostasis, although this has never been explored in a natural system. As diet is an important source of cysteine, here such an effect was indirectly tested by searching for an association between food abundance and pheomelanin content of feathers in a wild population of Northern goshawk Accipiter gentilis. As predicted on the basis that CTNS expression may inhibit pheomelanin synthesis and increase with food abundance -as previously found in other strictly carnivorous birds- the feather pheomelanin content in nestling goshawks, but not in adults, decreased as the abundance of prey available to them increased. In contrast, variation in the feather content of the non-sulphurated melanin form (eumelanin) was only explained by sex in both nestlings and adults. The feather pheomelanin content of nestlings was also found negatively related to that of their mothers, suggesting a relevant environmental influence on pheomelanin synthesis. Overall, these findings suggest that variation in pheomelanin synthesis may be a side effect of the maintenance of cysteine homeostasis. This may help explaining variability in the expression of pigmented phenotypes. informacion[at] Galván et al (2019) Pheomelanin synthesis varies with protein food abundance in developing goshawks. J Comp Physiol B