Land-use intensity impacts habitat selection of ground-nesting farmland birds in the Netherlands.
(1). Agricultural intensification has modified grassland habitats, causing serious declines in farmland biodiversity including breeding birds. Until now, it has been difficult to objectively evaluate the link between agricultural land-use intensity and range requirements of wild populations at the landscape scale. (2). In this study of Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa, we examined habitat selection and home range size during the breeding phase in relation to land-use intensity, at the scale of the entire Netherlands. From 2013 to 2019, 57 breeding godwits were tracked with solar-Platform Transmitter Terminals (26-216 locations [mean: 80] per bird per breeding phase) and used to estimate their core (50%) and home ranges (90%). Of these, 37 individuals were instrumented in Iberia and therefore unbiased toward eventual breeding locations. The tracks were used to analyse habitat selection by comparing the mean, median and standard deviation of land-use intensity of core and home ranges with matching iterated random samples of increasing radii, that is, 500 m (local), 5 km (neighbourhood), 50 km (region) and the whole of The Netherlands. (3). Land-use intensities of the core and home ranges selected by godwits were similar to those at the local and neighbourhood scales but were significantly lower and less variable than those of the region and the entire country. Thus, at the landscape scale, godwits were selected for low-intensity agricultural land. (4). The core range size of godwits increased with increasing land-use intensity, indicating high agricultural land-use intensity necessitating godwits to use larger areas. (5). This is consistent with the idea that habitat quality declines with increasing land-use intensity. This study is novel as it examines nationwide habitat selection and space use of a farmland bird subspecies tracked independently of breeding locations. Dutch breeding godwits selected areas with lower land-use intensity than what was generally available. The majority of the Dutch agricultural grassland (94%) is managed at high land-use intensity, which heavily restricts the viability of breeding possibilities for ground-nesting birds. The remote sensing methodology described here illustrates the potential to study entire wild populations from the local field level to their whole spatial range.