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Movements and foraging strategies in Griffon vultures (Gyps fulvus) and conservation plans

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In the current context of global change, organism are exposed to new selective pressures in their environments modified by human activities, and we observe the emergence of evolutionary traps. Moving can be interpreted as a consequence of these global changes, but also as the opportunity for an individual, a population or a species to adapt, at different spatio-temporal scales, by modifying their feeding sites, home range or distribution area. During my PhD, I was interested in studying the foraging of Griffon vultures (Gyps fulvus) belonging to the functional guild of obligate scavengers, which are the most threatened birds worldwide. Conservation plans have been carried out to limit their decline, proposing management practices such as supplementary feeding (SF) that may constitute an ecological trap (attractive but suboptimal sites) for vultures. Analysing of fine-scale daily movements and home ranges of individuals equipped with GPS devices, I found significant differences of foraging strategies and space use patterns in vultures from two French regions with low vs high SF (Pyrenees vs Causses). Using recent methods to quantify behavioral routines, I demonstrated that vultures visited SF stations in the Causses with low level of routine, both spatially and temporally. In spite of the distinct large-scale movement patterns between the individuals in the Causses and the Pyrenees, as well as different time-budgets (birds spending more time in flight in the Causses), energy expenditure estimated at the population level are quite similar. Beyond the level of resource predictability - inherent to SF - I highlighted other factors likely to influence individuals’ behavioral decision-making: the individual’s motivational state related to its breeding status, and local aerological conditions. At the interface between behavioral ecology and conservation biology, my work should contribute to a better understanding of the space use patterns in an obligate scavenger and the processes involved at different spatio-temporal scales. Conservationist will be able to use my results and management recommendations to maintain the natural behavior of vultures and, finally, populations’ viability.

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