Expansion of native wild boar populations is a new threat for semi-arid wetland areas

Wildlife management and conservation requires monitoring of species distribution and population indicators, especially when the unbalanced demographic changes of some species can affect the whole ecosystem functioning. The populations of wild boar (Sus scrofa) have, over the past few decades, undergone an expansion around the world, reaching situations of overabundance that can cause serious economic, ecological and health problems. This numerical increase of wild boar and its new spatial invasion can affect certain vulnerable species in sensitive ecological zones, such as the main inland wetland complex in SW Europe. In this context, we aim to (i) examine the association of wild boar abundance and that of lagomorphs, and waterbird productivity, controlling the possible effects of wild carnivores and other environmental predictors, and (ii) applying a survey method useful for managers to evaluate expected effect of wild boar abundance. Overall, the presence of wild boar has been detected in 80.8% of the monitored wetlands (n = 26), but a high variation of abundance rates was found. Wild boar abundance negatively associated with the productivity of the entire community of waterbirds, a priori highly vulnerable, breeding on shores or islands, both colonially (genus Gelochelidon, Himantopus, Recurvirostra, Sternula, Glareola, Tringa and Phoenicopterus) or solitary (genus Anas, Spatula, Mareca, Charadrius, Vanellus, Anser, Ardea, Aythya, Fulica, Netta, Oxyura and Tadorna). In addition, we evidenced a clear negative association of wild boar and wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) population abundance in the monitored wetlands. Rabbits are a keystone species in the study area and represent stable prey for many endangered predators. Our results suggest that potential impacts caused by high wild boar abundance may be already reaching unsustainable levels for some wetlands. Inter-species integrated monitoring is key to address the population management plans of wild boar populations in wetlands and to preserve the most vulnerable species.

Authors:  Jose A Barasona, Antonio Carpio, Mariana Boadella, Christian Gortazar, Xurxo Piñeiro, Carlos Zumalacárregui, Joaquín Vicente, Javier Viñuela

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