Griffon Vultures colonised Mallorca and joined the resident Cinereous Vultures – a novel project now studies the consequences of this phenomenon

Griffon Vultures and Cinereous Vultures feeding in Mallorca (c) Manuel de la Riva
Griffon Vultures and Cinereous Vultures feeding in Mallorca (c) Manuel de la Riva

In 2008, the Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) arrived in the Balearic Islands in an extraordinary colonisation event. The species has adapted to the habitat of Mallorca, and is sharing territory and resources with the Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus). A project researches this phenomenon – have a look below at some of the key outputs so far. 

 

Griffon Vultures colonised Mallorca

At the beginning of the 21st century, only two species of necrophagous birds lived in the Balearics: the Cinereous Vulture in Mallorca and the Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) in Menorca. But in November 2008, another vulture species that was carried by strong winds from a storm arrived at the archipelago - the Griffon Vulture.

 

Strong westerly winds carried over a hundred individuals from mainland Spain and rather than leaving, they stayed and colonised Mallorca. Most of them were juveniles and, began to breed after reaching their sexual maturity. In the spring of 2012, the first chicks were born in the Serra de Tramuntana, solidifying the establishment of the species in Mallorca and expanding its range. Scientific researchers and conservationists have monitored the new species ever since, and it seems to have adapted quite well to the Balearic habitat.

 

Griffon and Cinereous Vultures sharing an island 

The Cinereous Vulture, which is native to Mallorca, was rapidly diminishing and it was on the brink of extinction, but thanks to conservation efforts that reduced direct human persecution, among other actions, the population has multiplied by 10 in the last 40 years. The Fundació Vida Silvestre Mediterrània and the Department of Species Protection of the Balearic Govern estimate that in the 80s there were about twenty birds and, currently, there are around 200 Cinereous Vultures on the island, including approximately 39 breeding pairs nesting in the Serra de Tramuntana. There are presently about 15 pairs of Griffon Vultures that breed successfully, which presents an exceptional opportunity for research. Now a project studies the effects and consequences from the arrival of the species in Mallorca.

 

A project studying the effects of the colonisation 

Tagging a Cinereous Vulture with a GPS tag (c) Ainara Cortés-Avizanda
Tagging a Cinereous Vulture with a GPS tag (c) Ainara Cortés-Avizanda

The project uses cutting-edge methods and approaches to study the patterns, processes and consequences of this event. "The colonisation of Mallorca by the Griffon Vulture is an extraordinary event", says Dr. Ainara Cortés-Avizanda, a researcher of the Animal Demography and Ecology Unit (GEDA) at the Mediterranean Institute of Advanced Studies (IMEDEA, CSIC-UIB) in charge of the study. "From an ecological point of view, it is a rare experiment that allows us to obtain knowledge on the ground of a key species and see what happens when there is already another on the island".

 

The project further seeks to determine the feeding strategy of Griffon Vultures and Cinereous Vultures, monitor their movements and to see the perceptions the local community holds towards the Griffon Vulture and the ecosystem services it can provide in Mallorca.

 

Feeding strategy 

The project studies the feeding strategy to see whether there is a possible competition between the resident and colonising species and stable isotopes analysis, which allows the diet of the species to be reconstructed. This is then applied to research on trophic relationships within vertebrate communities, as well as to address specific questions about temporal and spatial variability in diets. Furthermore, this will help identify how dependent the two vulture species are on carrion derived from both domestic livestock and wild animals.

  

Monitoring the vultures

A Cinereous Vulture equipped with a GPS tag (c) Manuel de la Riva
A Cinereous Vulture equipped with a GPS tag (c) Manuel de la Riva

Another aspect of this project is equipping vultures with GPS transmitters to monitor their movements and better understand their behaviour. We at the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) support this effort by providing Dr, Ainara Cortes Avizada with 6 GPS to tag vultures to tag a total of six birds in Mallorca. Monitoring the vultures will also help the project team predict conflicts regarding socio-economic activities such as livestock.

 

Investigating the perception of locals

One of the most innovative parts of the project is the inclusion of social perception. To this end, Dr. Ainara Cortés-Avizanda carries out an ambitious research project that has performed 160 surveys to farmers of the Serra de Tramuntana on the different ecosystem services provided by vultures and perception of vultures. 

 

Ainara Cortés considers that this study of the perceptions and the attitudes of stakeholders highlight the need to work more with farmers to bridge any knowledge gap if it exists. The project aims to do so by providing them with information on the identification of scavenging species, their phenology, presence, behaviour and the ecosystem services they offer and thus, to integrate the interests of social factors into future management guidelines.

 

 

This is indeed a fascinating phenomenon and project! We look forward to seeing the future outputs of the project and how this extraordinary colonisation event progresses. 

 

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