Can we bring Red-backed Shrikes to breed in restored quarries?

ENCI quarry view (c) Arnold van den Burg

ENCI quarry view © Arnold van den Burg

The ENCI quarry in Maastricht, the Netherlands, is soon to be closed and a large area of Mount St. Peter and Jekerdal will be given back to nature.

The future users of the territory, the citizens and guests of Maastricht, are interested to inherit an ecologically coherent area, rich in biodiversity which will deliver ecosystem services.

The Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio, a threatened species throughout NW Europe, can be a perfect indicator for the quality of ecological restoration achieved at the former quarry.

Our partners from Biosphere Science Productions are studying the insect community at the site, as there will be no shrikes if large and nutritional insects are missing. The following is a report from the field by this project:

Subject I: Food availability for shrikes

  • We successfully film 3 nests in reference sites to collect prey capture data. Analysis of footage will be done during the autumn this year.
  • We have qualitative data on where the shrikes catch their prey, which is mainly in grassland.
  • Samples of the insect communities of grasslands where shrikes occur as well as the well-developed chalk grasslands around the ENCI quarry (about 150 net beats per sample, so lots and lots of insects…). As we want a full analysis of the insect community (at the time of sampling) all nets are stored frozen, to be sorted out in the fall.
Food item brought to nest (c) Arnold van den Burg

Food item brought to nest © Arnold van den Burg

What we will do later this year:

  • Soil sampling at sites with and without shrikes present (both within and outside of the quarry).
  • Preliminary experiments with foraging behaviour in different soil types of Scarabeidae-beetle larvae.
Reference site (c) Arnold van den Burg

Reference site © Arnold van den Burg

Subject 2: Ecological role of Buddleja davidii

  • Scoring leaf damage by herbivorous insects on Buddleia and native bushes in and around ENCI quarry (6 species, 20 plants, 20 leaves = 2400 data-points).
  • Sampling leaves, so that we can calculate in terms of biomass how much energy from leaf material enters the food chain (this is important as leaf morphology between plant species differs a lot). These leaves are being dried now, as we want to work with dry-mass. There are 6 species times 20 plants = 120 samples of 3-10 leaves per plant (leaves are pooled to form a single sample; stalks within composite leafs are excluded).

What we will do later this year:

  • Sampling flower-visiting insects (especially butterflies) – we want sampling to coincide with peak presence of Euplagia moths, late July – early August.
Neuntöter (Lanius collurio)

Adult male Red-backed Shrike, Lanius collurio © Berichard

10 thoughts on “Can we bring Red-backed Shrikes to breed in restored quarries?

  1. Very interesting and elaborate basic research. Only one question: why Budleja? I know is very attractive for butterflies (and probably other insects), but is an alien species: Lanius collurio should not need it.

    • Umberto, that’s exactly the point! Buddleja davidii is widespread in many disturbed habitats, including in and around quarries. Keeping it under control is a major task for quarry managers and is one of the issues faced by the restoration works at the ENCI quarry. The question we are interested in is to what extent Buddleja plants are nutritionally important for leaf eating beetles (we know that butterflies love them) and to what extent the potential removal of Buddleja plants might have an impact on the insect communities and abundance. That is why Arnold and his team will be counting and measuring leaves this autumn. And one of the outputs of our project will be recommendations for Buddleja management in the restoration works.

  2. Red-backed Shrikes are an excellent example of farmland-grassland-species, useful also as indicator of the quality of the environment. The species, that work in nature like little raptors, can be used as “top-predators” and then used easily in order to monitor the ecosystems, as surrogate of biodiversity. We have several years of studies in Central Italy and mainly from Poland, where the species was studied by mean of a hard-work during the last 15 years.
    On the other hand, the species seems also “suitable” to study the HNV farmlands and is favored on landscapes characterized by soft-heterogeneity and presence of marginal vegetation.
    Another good possibility provided by this species, is because the RBS is a charismatic bird species, and theorically, would be more easy to find stakeholders ready to collaborate or to provide financial support. The same reason, is apply to the public, general people, that can recognize the species in the field, and so, are well-prepared… all principles for the conservation planning…
    Congratulations for the post, and for the project!
    Please, if you need some help, contact to us,

      • Yes, of course. Sorry for delay!
        Below some examples. If you need some copies of our artciles, please contact to me to….
        MORELLI F. & P. TRYJANOWSKI 2014. No species is an island: testing the effects of biotic interactions on models of avian niche occupation in Poland. Ecology and Evolution 11/2014.
        MORELLI F., BEIM M., JERZAK L., JONES D. & P. TRYJANOWSKI 2014. Can roads, railways and related structures have positive effects on birds? – a review. Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment 30: 21-31.
        MORELLI F., JERZAK L. & P. TRYJANOWSKI 2014. Birds as useful indicators of high nature value (HNV) farmland in central Italy. Ecological Indicators 38: 236-242.
        MORELLI F. & P. TRYJANOWSKI 2014. Associations between species can influence the goodness of fit of species distribution models: the case of two passerine bird. Ecological Complexity 20: 208-212.
        MORELLI F. 2013. Relative importance of marginal vegetation (shrubs, hedgerows, isolated trees) surrogate of HNV farmland for bird species distribution in Central Italy. Ecological Engineering 57: 261-266.
        MORELLI F., PRUSCINI F., SANTOLINI R., PERNA P., BENEDETTI Y. & D. SISTI 2013. Landscape heterogeneity metrics as indicators of bird diversity: determining the optimal spatial scales in different landscapes. Ecological Indicators 34: 372-379.
        MORELLI F. 2013. Quantifying effects of spatial heterogeneity of farmlands on bird species richness by means of similarity index pairwise. International Journal of Biodiversity, vol. 2013. doi:10.1155/2013/914837.
        MORELLI F., SALTARELLI M., PRUSCINI F. & Y. BENEDETTI 2013. First description of Red-backed shrike Lanius collurio food caching in Central Italy: prey’s type and spatial position into the larders. Avocetta 37: 27-34.
        MORELLI F. 2013. Are the nesting probabilities of the Red-backed shrike related to proximity to roads? Nature Conservation 5: 1-11.
        MORELLI F., PRUSCINI F., SALTARELLI M. 2012. Red-backed Shrike larders in central Italy. British Birds 105(9): 543-544.
        MORELLI F. 2012. Plasticity of habitat selec¬tion by Red-backed shrikes Lanius collurio breeding in different landscapes. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology 124(1): 51-56.
        MORELLI F., SANTOLINI R. & D. SISTI 2012. Breeding habitat of Red-backed shrike Lanius collurio on farmland hilly areas of Central Italy: is functional heterogeneity an important key?. Ethology Ecology & Evolution 24: 127-139.
        GIRARDELLO M. & F. MORELLI 2012. Modelling the environmental niche of a declining farmland bird species. Italian Journal of Zoology 79(3): 434-440.
        MORELLI F. 2011. Importance of road proximity for the nest site selection of the Red-backed shrike Lanius collurio in an agricultural environment in Central Italy. Journal of Mediterranean Ecology 11: 21-29.
        MORELLI F. 2011. Altitudinal distribution of breeding sites of Red-backed shrikes Lanius collurio in agricultural environments of Pesaro-Urbino province, Central Italy. Picus 70 (1): 91-95. (in Italian)
        MORELLI F. & M. PANDOLFI 2011. Breeding habitat and nesting site of the Red-backed shrike Lanius collurio in farmland of the Marche region, Italy. Avocetta 35: 43-49.

  3. what equipment will you be using to measure flower visiting insects on tall trees with big crowns? How are you going to address challenges of nocturnal flower visitors on the type of trees in question?

    • Dear Victor, our approach is to first determine the insect species visiting buddleja at the ENCI quarry by day and night-time direct observations. Then we extract existing knowledge about known food plants from literature and survey their presence in and around the quarry site. In case of insect rarities and the absence (or scarcity) of food plants we can suggest management options allowing food plant populations to develop. In this way, we circumvent the methodological difficulty which you address, whilst maintaining focus on those insect species that actually use buddleja plants.

  4. Pingback: What’s on the menu: a beetle, a cricket or a bug? «

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