The lapwing as a flagship species: Implementation of a conservation project to foster lapwing populations in agricultural landscapes
In the 1950s, the lapwing was a very common species in German agricultural landscapes. Since then, its population has undergone a steep decline.
Which agri-environmental measures can help the lapwing to breed and successfully reproduce on arable fields?
Within the Federal Program for Biological Diversity (Bundesprogramme biologische Vielfalt) the lapwing is designated as one of the animal species for which conservation in Germany has taken particular responsibility. The lapwing is a typical meadow-breeder and was once common to wet grasslands. In the course of the past decades, the agricultural use of many meadows and pastures has been intensified (shorter mowing intervals, higher stocking rates, denser and more productive swards). This intensification of grassland management reduces the likelihood for nests and chicks to survive. In some regions of Germany, arable fields have become the most important breeding sites of the lapwing. The species is bound to open sites with short vegetation periods. For this reason, the lapwing frequently breeds on fields with spring-sown crops (in particular sugar beet and maize). So far, however, little is known of the determinants of nest site selection and breeding on arable fields.
In the framework of this project, we intend to shed light on the factors determining the successful reproduction of the lapwing on arable fields. Based on the knowledge gained, we aim at developing cropping-system specific measures that enhance the breeding success of the lapwing on arable fields.
Farmers, agricultural extension services, state nature conservation offices, agricultural administration authorities
In eight project regions located in six federal states of Germany we conduct scientific research on the present lapwing populations. In close cooperation with local farmers we test integrated measures of lapwing protection and evaluate their efficiency and practicability.
The Thünen Institute of Rural Studies coordinates the project implementation in the Braunschweig region. We aim to identify the factors that foster the local lapwing populations on arable fields, in particular in sugar beet. For this purpose we analyze farm-specific data on the cropping system: What are the characteristics of crop production systems on those arable fields where the lapwing breeds? We additionally evaluate the farmers’ approval of measures for lapwing protection. Moreover, we estimate the efficiency and effectivity of the tested measures at the national scale.
The study combines an ornithological survey of the lapwing populations with an analysis of the local farms regarding practices of arable crop production and economics. In addition, we estimate the costs of the implementation of effective measures within the framework of agri-environmental schemes. By means of the regional sector model RAUMIS the potential population development of the lapwing will be projected for several scenarios regarding the development of agricultural production in Germany.
Which factors determine the breeding success of the lapwing in agricultural landscapes with a predominant share of arable cropping?
How effective and how efficient are the different conservation measures?
What are the conditions that enable the implementation of effective and efficient conservation measures in the framework of rural development programs?
What is the effect of structural change in agricultural on lapwing populations?
Preliminary results 2014-2017
Breeding sites and success
In the years 2014-2017 breeding sites of lapwings were mapped and their breeding success was measured on arable land with and without different protection measures.
Lapwings inhabit open landscapes with good visibility of the surrounding area. Ground cover and vegetation height at the beginning of the breeding season (end of March/beginning of April) are significant criteria for the attractiveness of a potential breeding site. Wet patches or small water bodies enhance the habitat quality.
In the region of Brunswick, sugar beet crops are an important breeding habitat for lapwings: about one half of the counted nests were found on sugar beet fields. Another quarter of the breeding sites were located on summer crops, especially maize.
Our first findings show that farming measures on sugar beet fields and the resulting field characteristics fit the needs of lapwings relatively well. The sowing of sugar beet takes place at the beginning of April or even earlier, if the weather conditions are mild. Sugar beet is a crop, where mechanical weed control is uncommon. Accordingly, mechanical work on these fields is over when lapwings start to breed. Even in the case of nest destruction, there’s enough time left to produce a second clutch. The situation is different on maize: This crop is sown later, mostly during the second half of April. In 2015, only 15% of lapwing clutches on maize fields hatched. Marking the nests to inform farmers about their location helps to increase the hatching: In 2016, 60% of our marked nests hatched. In 2017, almost no lapwing nests were found on maize fields.
To improve the habitat suitability of arable fields for lapwings, we tested different alternatives for so-called lapwing plots. In the Brunswick region, a “greened lapwing plot” next to summer crops turned out most effective. On these sites, a mix of grass, clover and herbs was sown in a sparse density. This offers a chance to suppress weeds, and evolves in a vegetation structure which provides feed and concealment opportunities for lapwings and their chicks. . The breeding success on arable fields with such lapwing plots was increased in comparison to fields without lapwing plots. It is, however, important to carefully choose the fields upon which lapwing plots are implemented so that lapwings will breed on the respective fields. In addition to positive effects for lapwings, other avifauna also benefitted from greened lapwing plots: a higher number of bird species was documented on these fields than on control sites.
In 2016 and 2017, several lapwing nests were monitored with cameras to find out the fate of the nests. We documented heavily fluctuating predation rates: While hardly any nest was predated in 2016, in the following year two third of the monitored nests were destroyed by foxes. Exclosure of ground predators using electric fencing is a promising approach, but we could not test it with a standardised method around Brunswick. This measure requires more effort in building up and maintaining fences, and therefore is particularly suitable for lapwing hot spot areas.
Interviews with farmers
The willingness to implement protection measures for lapwings on arable fields was high among the participating farmers. Not only compensation payments for yield losses and additional effort were reasons for the farmers to participate, but rather also the success and value of the measures themselves. Most farmers rated the additional effort (i.e., preparation of the lapwing plot) as acceptable. They are willing to continue with the tested measures to support lapwings and the ecological value of their fields in general.
There are still many challenges to develop specific AEM. These challenges arise out of diverse results throughout the different project regions across Germany, complex requirements within existing regulation schemes and the needs of farmers. Our upcoming tasks include the definition of the most important aspects of lapwing protection measures and their compatibility with different funding instruments.
Project-Homepage of the NABU (German)
8.2014 - 8.2019
Funding program: Bundesprogramm Biologische Vielfalt
Project status: ongoing
Results 1 - 5 of 6
Results 1 - 5 of 6