1. European agriculture is facing dramatic changes that are likely to have marked impacts on farmland biodiversity. There is an urgent need to develop land management strategies compatible with the conservation of biodiversity.
2. We applied a spatially explicit behaviour-based model to assess how farmland management and the pattern of events across the annual farming calendar influences the foraging decisions of lesser kestrels Falco naumanni in a cereal steppe landscape. Moreover, we simulated the most likely scenarios of future agricultural changes to predict its impacts on lesser kestrel breeding success. Lesser kestrels have been the subject of serious conservation concern and constitute a good model species to judge impacts on farmland species more widely.
3. Our results show that the location of cereal and fallow patches within a 2-km radius of a kestrel colony influences the total food supply delivered to the nestlings, explaining the differences in breeding success between years and colonies. Furthermore, the particular sequence in which patches are harvested by farmers is also predicted to influence offspring survival.
4. Agricultural intensification, simulated by increasing the proportion of cereal fields, is predicted to negatively influence breeding success. However, the field harvesting sequence can play an important role in alleviating the effects of the increased percentage of cereal, as demonstrated by the higher breeding success obtained when harvesting starts from patches farthest from the colonies. The replacement of cereal cultivation by low-intensity grazed fallows would not be detrimental for kestrels.
5. Synthesis and applications. Our results highlight the effectiveness of behaviour-based models to evaluate the interacting effect of spatial and temporal dynamics of agricultural landscapes and predict the response of populations to environmental change. To optimize food availability for lesser kestrels, land managers should implement long rotational schemes with <60% of the area under extensive cereal cultivation in a 2-km radius around colonies. Harvesting should start in the cereal patches farthest from colonies. Ideally, the predominant land use around colonies should be fallows. These outcomes illustrate how behaviour-based models can be applied to identify specific management recommendations that would improve the effectiveness of agri-environmental schemes, the most accepted tool for maintaining farmland landscapes.