Wildlife Damage Management, Internet Center for


Date of this Version

October 1973


The impact of bird populations upon the properties or processes of ecosystems is mediated through patterns and magnitudes of energy flow. This impact may be either direct, by processing of large quantities of energy or nutrients, or indirect, through feedback control of other ecosystem rate processes or components. In either case, however, the impact is a result of the population dynamics and the pattern and magnitude of food consumption of the birds. Recent research by several groups points to a relatively small direct impact on birds on most natural ecosystems (Wiens 1973). Impact through feedback control, a more difficult relationship to study, is just beginning to receive close attention in a total systems framework. In managed ecosystems, however, where our interest is in either the bird population or its prey as an aesthetic or economic resource, the direct impacts are of considerable importance. These direct impacts are a reflection of prey consumption, which in turn is a result of the interactions of prey selection and energy demand. There is little field information available on either of these components for most bird populations, however, and we have therefore employed simulation modelling, coupled with existing information on dietary composition, to generate estimates of prey consumption rates and thus of potential impact. Our modelling tactic has been to stress generality and biological realism at the expense of precision (Levins 1966), since we are interested in models which are both robust and broadly applicable. Also, we recognize that the data base of the model is frequently imprecise, and it seems intuitively illogical to build extremely precise models for imprecise data inputs, even though this if often done.