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Faecal metabarcoding reveals pervasive long-distance impacts of garden bird feeding

Shutt, Jack D, Trivedi, Urmi H and Nicholls, James A (2021) Faecal metabarcoding reveals pervasive long-distance impacts of garden bird feeding. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 288 (195`). ISSN 0962-8452

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Abstract

Supplementary feeding of wildlife is widespread, being undertaken by more than half of households in many countries. However, the impact that these supplemental resources have is unclear, with impacts largely considered to be restricted to urban ecosystems. We reveal the pervasiveness of supplementary foodstuffs in the diet of a wild bird using metabarcoding of blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) faeces collected in early spring from a 220 km transect in Scotland with a large urbanization gradient. Supplementary foodstuffs were present in the majority of samples, with peanut (Arachis hypogaea) the single commonest (either natural or supplementary) dietary item. Consumption rates exhibited a distance decay from human habitation but remained high at several hundred metres from the nearest household and continued to our study limit of 1.4 km distant. Supplementary food consumption was associated with a near quadrupling of blue tit breeding density and a 5-day advancement of breeding phenology. We show that woodland bird species using supplementary food have increasing UK population trends, while species that do not, and/or are outcompeted by blue tits, are likely to be declining. We suggest that the impacts of supplementary feeding are larger and more spatially extensive than currently appreciated and could be disrupting population and ecosystem dynamics.

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