Does urbanization have the potential to create an ecological trap for powerful owls (Ninox strenua)?

Bronwyn Louise Isaac, Raylene Cooke, Daniel Ierodiaconou, John G White

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Landscape transformation associated with urbanization is one of the most damaging and pervasive impacts humans have on natural ecosystems. The response of species to increasing urbanization has become a major focus of research globally. Powerful owls (Ninox strenua) are a top-order predator the have been shown to reside in urban environments, but increasing urbanization has also been demonstrated to significantly reduce available habitat. In this paper we use species distribution models established for key food and nesting resources of powerful owls across an urban-forest gradient to constrain habitat predictions from a previously developed powerful owl species distribution model. This multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) approach allowed us to investigate the impacts of urbanization on potential powerful owl habitat when challenged with food and nesting requirements. As powerful owls only use tree cavities for nesting we propose that the cue for settlement in an area is associated with the presence of habitat and food and as such breeding requirements may be disconnected from settlement requirements.

Our results demonstrate that incorporation of a general prey resource (at least one group of arboreal marsupials) as a cue for settlement does not reduce the amount of available habitat for powerful owls substantially. Further constraining the model with a tree cavity resource, however, leads to a substantial reduction in powerful owl habitat in the urban and urban fringe environments. If a diverse prey resource (two or more groups of arboreal marsupials) is used as the cue for settlement, this sees a substantial reduction in available habitat in urban environments. Incorporation of tree cavities into this model does not reduce the available habitat for powerful owls substantially.

We propose that powerful owls do not need a diverse prey base for survival, and that breeding resources are unlikely to be a cue for settlement. As such, we argue in this paper that increasing urbanization has the potential to create an ecological trap for powerful owls as there is a significant difference between habitat capable of supporting powerful owls, and habitat in which owls can breed.

Management of powerful owls in urban environments will be difficult, but this research highlights the potential for the use of nest boxes to enhance the breeding activities in increasingly urbanized environments. Replacement of this critical resource may be able to reverse any potential ecological trap that is occurring.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalBiological Conservation
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2014
Externally publishedYes

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