Declines in farmland bird populations are often linked to changes in agricultural practices, but little is known about the demographic changes underlying these adverse trends. Identifying the demographic drivers of population change is critical for understanding why populations are declining. In this study we assessed the demographic changes in the declining Dutch Starling Sturnus vulgaris population. We estimated productivity per breeding attempt and survival rates over a period of 52 years (1960–2012). The results show that juvenile survival decreased significantly over time. Adult survival fluctuated between years, with (non-significant) lower survival rates between 1990 and 2012. No trend in reproductive output was found over the study period. A population model was built for three different phases of population change within the study period: 1960–1978, 1978–1990 and 1990–2012. The contribution of changes in demographic parameters to population growth rate (lambda) between the different periods was examined by performing a life table response experiment (LTRE). The LTRE analysis showed that changes in juvenile survival explained most of the differences in population growth rate between periods. Our results therefore suggest that a decline in juvenile survival rather than changes in adult survival or reproductive success is the most important cause of the decline of the Starling population in The Netherlands.
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Vol. 104 • No. 2