Humans benefit from processes/services provided by predators and scavengers in ecosystems while at the same time they may suffer conflicts/disservices from them. Therefore, the conservation of predators and scavengers can benefit from applying interdisciplinary approaches that consider and connect the processes/services and conflicts/disservices that humans may receive from these animals. Although that approach has already been used quite a bit with terrestrial predators and scavengers, there is very little interdisciplinary research on flying predators and scavengers such as raptors. This thesis seeks to explore the socio-ecological factors that affect human-raptor relationships, evaluating the particular case of the Black-and-chestnut Eagle (Spizaetus isidori) throughout its distribution, in order to propose specific conservation measures.
The first specific goal (Chapter 1) was to assess viewpoints of the experts in raptor conservation about the main ecosystem processes/services and conflicts/disservices that raptors provide to humans and to know the main strategies that experts consider effective for management these species in the wild. For this, we conducted an online survey among raptor conservation experts from which we obtained 87 responses from six continents (i.e. North America, South America, Africa, Asia, Europe and Australia). We found that the viewpoints of the experts in raptor conservation around the world are biased towards the acceptance of processes/services rather than the acceptance of conflicts/disservices that raptors provide to humans. Nocturnal raptors (i.e. owls) were considered the species that provide most ecosystem processes/services (73%, 8 of 11), followed by vultures and condors (55%, 6 of 11), finally hawks and eagles and falcons (45%, 5 of 11 each one). According to experts, hawks and eagles were involved in the highest number of conflicts/disservices (37.5%, 3 of 8), vultures and condors and owls were involved in only one (12.5%, 1 de 8), respectively, while falcons were not involved in conflicts/disservices. Additionally, experts agreed on five management strategies that they believe are effective for promoting the conservation of raptors in the wild: two of these consider the participation of several social actors (i.e. bottom-up governance) and the rest are measures taken by governments (i.e. top-down governance).
The second specific goal (Chapter 2) was to assess the home range, mortality and habitat selection of the Black-and-chestnut-Eagle during natal dispersal in fragmented landscapes of tropical and subtropical Andean Montane Forests. We captured six fledglings in four nests (three in Colombia and one in Argentina) of three populations of the species, which were equipped with GPS transmitters with data download via GSM cell phone network (i.e. GPS/GSM loggers). From 20 months of age, mortality was very high (67%, 4 of 6), so we restricted the analyses to the first year of natal dispersal (i.e. between 8 and 20 months of age). We found that the home range of juveniles in the first year of natal dispersal is large (media ~996 km2; DE ± 606; rango = 294-2130 km2). During the process of natal dispersal, juveniles move through fragmented landscapes where, they consistently selected areas with a higher percentage of forest cover, higher slopes and medium altitudes with respect to availability. Although juveniles show some level of tolerance for moving through fragmented habitat, the mortality rate was very high. It is therefore suggested that in order to maintain viable populations and the key ecosystem processes/services provided by this top predator in the tropical and subtropical Andean forests of South America, we need to mitigate the causes of non-natural mortality.
The third specific goal (Chapter 3) was to examine the socio-ecological context that exacerbates the human-eagle conflict in rural communities of the eastern Andes of Colombia. We conducted 172 surveys in 20 rural communities and estimated the proportion of forest cover on each rural community (i.e. amount of remaining native forest), human density, and annual losses of domestic birds due to the Black-and-chestnut Eagle, among other socio-demographic parameters (i.e. economic activity, domestic fowl ownership, age, education, gender, etc.). We found that tolerance decreases when forest cover, human density, and annual losses of domestic birds are greater. This can make the Black-and-chestnut Eagle more vulnerable to extirpation in rural communities where forest remnants are larger. The integration of socio-ecological information allowed us to identify the rural communities with higher human-eagle conflict and thus where the conservation measures should be implemented.
The fourth specific goal (Chapter 4) was to analyze how the contributions of the Black-and-chestnut Eagle to people (perceived and real) and governance (national and local) affect the human-top predator conflict with this species in the Neotropics. The ultimate goal of governance is to manage individual behaviors and collective actions for the sustainable use of natural resources through environmental management. For this reason, this is a factor of great importance to managing human-predator conflicts. We conducted 282 surveys in rural communities around 27 nesting sites of the species in Colombia and Ecuador. We found that people's tolerance towards the eagle was negatively related to detriments (perceived and real) and disapproval of governance at the local level, but there was no influence of governance at the country level. Less than a half (40%) of interviewees disapproved of governance management at the local level. A high percentage of people showed high tolerance towards the eagle (41.13%), followed by people with a neutral position (35.46%) and finally those who indicated a low tolerance (23.41%). However, we documented human persecution of the Black-and-chestnut Eagle in most of the sampled nests (59%, 16 of 27) and in all of the assessed geographic jurisdictions. Our results suggest that systems with poor governance in other Neotropical countries, could also be negatively affecting human-predator conflicts there.
In general, each thesis chapter sought to address different socio-ecological factors that affect human-raptor relationships. These factors have historically been best known to terrestrial predators but are very little known in raptors. Therefore, the main contribution of this thesis is to provide new evidence on the importance of implementing interdisciplinary approaches to address conflicts involving raptors as the main aerial predators and scavengers in terrestrial systems. These approaches, considering the multiplicity of socio-ecological factors that interact in human-raptor relationships, increase our ability to inform decision-making and implementation of management measures, therefore, they are essential if we are to develop and implement effective conservation policies for these species in the Anthropocene.