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Nationwide trophic cascades : changes in avian community structure driven by ungulates.

Palmer, G. and Stephens, P.A. and Ward, A.I. and Willis, S.G. (2015) 'Nationwide trophic cascades : changes in avian community structure driven by ungulates.', Scientific reports., 5 . p. 15601.


In recent decades, many ungulate populations have changed dramatically in abundance, resulting in cascading effects across ecosystems. However, studies of such effects are often limited in their spatial and temporal scope. Here, we contrast multi-species composite population trends of deer-sensitive and deer-tolerant woodland birds at a national scale, across Britain. We highlight the divergent fates of these two groups between 1994 and 2011, and show a striking association between the calculated divergence and a composite population trend of woodland deer. Our results demonstrate the link between changes in deer populations and changes in bird communities. In a period when composite population trends for deer increased by 46%, the community population trend across deer-sensitive birds (those dependent on understory vegetation) declined much more than the community trend for deer-tolerant birds. Our findings suggest that ongoing changes in the populations of herbivorous ungulates in many countries worldwide may help explain patterns of community restructuring at other trophic levels. Ungulate impacts on other taxa may require more consideration by conservation practitioners than they currently receive.

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Publisher statement:This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in the credit line; if the material is not included under the Creative Commons license, users will need to obtain permission from the license holder to reproduce the material. To view a copy of this license, visit
Date accepted:24 September 2015
Date deposited:17 November 2015
Date of first online publication:October 2015
Date first made open access:No date available

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