Patterns of grassland productivity, composition and seed abundance, and the diet of the flock bronzewing pigeon Phaps histrionica at one site in northern Australia over a period of marked seasonal change
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Context: Multiple scales of research are needed to understand the ecology and conservation requirements of species whose ecology is characterised by marked spatial and temporal dynamism. The flock bronzewing pigeon may provide a model for the conservation management of species with similar dispersive ecologies. Aims: This study aimed to document the species composition and its variability in seeds consumed by flock bronzewing pigeons across a period of contrasting seasonal conditions, and to relate this diet to variation in food resource availability. Methods: The diet of the flock bronzewing pigeon was described by analysis of the crop contents of samples collected over the period from June 2006 to September 2007 at one pastoral property on the Barkly Tablelands, Northern Territory. Variation in food resource availability was assessed using data from remote sensing, grassland community structure, and direct measurement of soil seed density. Multivariate statistical methods were used to test variation in plant community structure between years and among land units; generalised linear modelling was used to examine inter-annual variation in the abundance of key food plant species and seasonal variation in seed abundance. Key results: Across the period of this study, the diet of flock bronzewing pigeons on the Barkly Tableland was largely restricted to seeds of a small number of plant species within Mitchell grasslands. Dietary patterns varied between years; evidence from remote sensing, grassland community structure, and seed density was consistent with these dietary patterns. Conclusions: Flock bronzewing pigeons appear to be adapted to exploiting rare, episodic events, leading to high seed production by the ephemeral or annual component of perennial tussock grasslands. Key food plant species include the forbs Wedelia asperrima, Trichodesma zeylanicum and Phyllanthus lacerosus and the large-seeded annual grass Chionachne hubbardiana. These species may not be those that provide critical resources during unfavourable periods. Implications: Conservation management of flock bronzewing pigeons will entail strategies to maintain key food species in grazed landscapes, and to ensure replenishment of seed reserves of annual and ephemeral plant species. Management practices to achieve these goals may include rotational wet season spelling of paddocks. More information is required on the focal areas for persistence within these black-soil grassland landscapes.