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Population model for the capercaillie in the Swiss Alps

Evidences for species conservation

 

The capercaillie Tetrao urogallus is a threatened breeding bird species of Switzerland. Changes in the use and composition of mountain forests caused a pronounced decline in population numbers during the last 30-40 years. The main goal of this project is to assess the major landscape and habitat factors which limit the abundance and distribution of the species, and to provide conceptual and practical recommendations for the conservation of the species.

 

With its large home ranges, the specific habitat requirements and its sensitivity towards human disturbance the capercaillie is emblematic for many rare species of forest landscapes. The regression of the distribution area in combination with a population decline is a common phenomenon of threatened wildlife species which are often substantially affected by habitat deterioration and fragmentation. As a consequence, the remaining populations are organized in spatially discrete patches of suitable habitat within a matrix of unsuitable habitat.

During the last 40 years, island biogeography and metapopulation theory has provided much input for the theoretical understanding of spatially structured populations. But it has only sporadically been tested with empirical data. The understanding of the dynamics of small, spatially structured populations is of high significance for conservation biology – both in scientific and applied aspects.

 

 

The goal of this project is to develop a spatially explicit population-habitat model for the capercaillie in the Swiss Alps by considering relevant environmantal factors at the stand, forest and landscape scale. We are studying the species ecology with the support of a) traditional field methods, b) landscape ecological approaches, c) remote sensing data, and c) population genetics while addressing the following questions:

  • How large is the landscape-ecological habitat potential for the capercaillie in the Alps?
  • How are local populations distributed, what are the corresponding popoulations sizes?
  • How do habitat size, habitat quality and connectivity influence the dynamics of local and regional populations?
  • Which landscape characteristics facilitate the exchange of individuals between spatially separated populations?

Results are published in scientific journals and used to support stakeholders in developing a species action plan. We further provide guidance for habitat restoration and advise foresters in their practical work.

 

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