Moving window growth-A method to characterize the dynamic growth of crops in the context of bird abundance dynamics with the example of Skylark (Alauda arvensis)
Agricultural field crops differ in their vegetation height, coverage, and temporal development, affecting the abundances of bird species, which are often used as bioindicators. Although this relationship has been observed, no significant methodology exists to describe the dynamics of field crop growth on a landscape scale in connection with the abundance of indicator bird species that allows meaningful interpretation of bird abundance data with respect to crop vegetation parameters during the breeding season. In a field observation program, we monitored 2,900 ha of agricultural landscape to represent both the crop growth processes and the bird abundances. We measured these two parameters in the study area, dominated by winter wheat, winter rapeseed, maize, and fallow fields, and adapted the moving window approach to a new method of “moving window growth” to describe the dynamic development of height and coverage of the crops over time. Simultaneously, Skylarks (Alauda arvensis) territorial behavior was measured concurrently on the same fields and crops. Their dynamic abundance was documented over the breeding season. To test the relationship between crop growth and development and bird abundance, we applied a generalized linear model (GLM) in two ways: (a) without differentiation of crop species and (b) with differentiation of crop species. We found significant relationships between bird abundance and vegetation height and coverage with respect to both individual parameters and their interactions, even without differentiation of the agricultural crops. In general, increasing vegetation height and coverage, especially the interaction, led to decreasing bird abundance values. The model quality increased significantly by including differentiation of specific crops as an explanatory variable indicating a non‐homogenous situation between crops. Separate models for individual crop species revealed larger differences in model quality with best and least goodness of fit values for fallow fields and winter rapeseed, respectively. Because of the clear interactions between bird abundance, type of field crop, and vegetation height and coverage, it follows that both habitat suitability assessments of arable fields and the definition of favorable vegetation structures for farmland birds should be crop species‐specific.