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Killing with kindness: Does widespread generalised provisioning of wildlife help or hinder biodiversity conservation efforts?

Shutt, Jack D and Lees, Alexander C (2021) Killing with kindness: Does widespread generalised provisioning of wildlife help or hinder biodiversity conservation efforts? Biological Conservation, 261. ISSN 0006-3207

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Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

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Abstract

Provisioning of wildlife with food, water and breeding sites is a globally ubiquitous phenomenon. While some provisioning is targeted at single species of conservation concern, generalised provisioning is more common and can exceed the local availability of natural resources for recipient taxa. Generalised provisioning is enthusiastically promoted by many conservation organisations as a means to foster connection with nature and help wildlife. However, such a vast input of additional resources into the environment must have diverse, ecosystem-wide consequences. Direct effects upon recipient taxa have garnered most research interest, and are generally positive in leading to increased survival, productivity and hence population growth. However, we argue that the wider implications for the recipients' non-provisioned competitors, prey and predators are underappreciated and have the potential to generate pervasive negative impacts for biodiversity. The impact of provisioning has also hitherto been considered predominantly in urban contexts, overlooking the movements of wildlife to and from provisioning sources and the widespread nature of both human settlements and provisioning, underappreciating the potential scale of impact. Using a case study of UK garden bird food and nestbox provisioning, we hypothesise how well-intentioned provisioning could be contributing to widespread ecological community change and homogenisation. This may consequently help drive declines in species of conservation concern by asymmetrically benefitting common and adaptable species, leaving their competitors exposed to enhanced direct competition, hyperpredation, mesopredator release and heightened disease transmission risks. We recommend further research into these ecosystem cascades and a more cautious, evidence-based approach to the encouragement of provisioning wildlife.

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