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Cryptic population decrease due to invasive species predation in a long-lived seabird supports need for eradication

Invasive species are one of the greatest drivers of biodiversity loss worldwide, and the eradication of invasive species from islands is a highly efficient management strategy. Because eradication operations require large financial investments, uncertainty over the magnitude of impacts of both invasive species and their removal can impede the willingness of decision makers to invest in eradication. Such uncertainty is prevalent for long-lived species that display an inherent lag between life stages affected by invasive species and those used for population status assessments.
Albatrosses are amongst the longest-living bird species and are threatened on land by invasive species and at sea by industrial fisheries. As in many seabird species, usually only a segment of the population (breeding adults) is used for status assessments, making it difficult to assess albatross population trends and the potential benefit of conservation action, such as the management of predatory invasive species.
We used population monitoring and mark-recapture data to estimate the past population trajectory of the critically endangered Tristan albatross Diomedea dabbenena by accounting for unobservable birds at sea in an integrated population model. We then projected the future population trajectory of Tristan albatrosses for scenarios with or without predation by invasive house mice Mus musculus on their main breeding site, Gough Island.
The adult breeding population remained stable between 2004 and 2021, but breeding success was low (31%) and our model indicated that the total population (including unobservable immature birds) decreased from a median estimate of 9,795 to 7,752 birds. Eradicating invasive mice leading to a two-fold increase in breeding success would result in a 1.8–7.6 times higher albatross population by 2050 (median estimate 10,352 individuals) than without this intervention.
Low reproductive output for long-lived species may lead to a cryptic population decrease, which can be obscured from readily available counts of breeding pairs by changes in the population structure. Mouse eradication is necessary to halt the ongoing population decrease of the Tristan albatross, even if this decrease is not yet apparent in the breeding population size.

Date
18 June 2022
RSPB Authors
Dr Steffen Oppel
Authors
Oppel, Steffen Clark, Bethany L Risi, Michelle M Horswill, Catharine Converse, Sarah J Jones, Christopher W Osborne, Alexis M Stevens, Kim Perold, Vonica Bond, Alexander L Wanless, Ross M Cuthbert, Richard Cooper, John Ryan, Peter G
Published in
Journal of Applied Ecology
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Current breeding distributions and predicted range shifts under climate change in two subspecies of Black-tailed Godwits in Asia

Habitat loss and shifts associated with climate change threaten global biodiversity, with impacts likely to be most pronounced at high latitudes. With the disappearance of the tundra breeding habitats, migratory shorebirds that breed at these high latitudes are likely to be even more vulnerable to climate change than those in temperate regions. We examined this idea using new distributional information on two subspecies of Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa in Asia: the northerly, bog-breeding L. l. bohaii and the more southerly, steppe-breeding L. l. melanuroides. Based on breeding locations of tagged and molecularly assayed birds, we modelled the current breeding distributions of the two subspecies with species distribution models, tested those models for robustness and then used them to predict climatically suitable breeding ranges in 2070 according to bioclimatic variables and different climate change scenarios. Our models were robust and showed that climate change is expected to push bohaii into the northern rim of the Eurasian continent. Melanuroides is also expected to shift northward, stopping in the Yablonovyy and Stanovoy Ranges, and breeding elevation is expected to increase. Climatically suitable breeding habitat ranges would shrink to 16% and 11% of the currently estimated ranges of bohaii and melanuroides, respectively. Overall, this study provides the first predictions for the future distributions of two little-known Black-tailed Godwit subspecies and highlights the importance of factoring in shifts in bird distribution when designing climate-proof conservation strategies.

Date
18 June 2022
Authors
Zhu, Bing‐Run Verhoeven, Mo A Velasco, Nicolas Sanchez‐Aguilar, Lisa Zhang, Zhengwang Piersma, Theunis
Published in
Global Change Biology
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Accelerating decline of an important wintering population of the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper at Sonadia Island, Bangladesh

The critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper Calidris pygmaea breeds in Russia and winters between Bangladesh and China. World population estimates during 2014–2019 suggested a decline at a mean rate of 8% per year. Several surveys of local populations also indicated declines. We report a rapid decline of another local population of the species based on a 9-year series of annual surveys during the boreal winter at Sonadia Island, Chattogram Division, Bangladesh. We made bounded-count estimates of local populations of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper and 25 other shorebird species based on monthly counts in each of nine winters (2012/2013 to 2020/2021). For three of these winters (2017/2018 to 2019/2020), we also made Lincoln–Petersen estimates of the local population of Spoon-billed Sandpipers using resightings and scan surveys of individually marked birds. Population and trend estimates for the two methods were similar during the 3-year period when results from both were available. Bounded-count estimates of Spoon-billed Sandpipers declined markedly over the 9-year period. Analysis of combined data from both methods indicated that an exponential decline at a mean rate of 9.5% per year during the period 2012/2013 to 2017/2018 was followed by a much more rapid decline at 49.1% per year during 2018/2019 to 2020/2021. Bounded-count estimates of the combined population of 25 other shorebird species in each winter showed no decline during the 9-year period, which suggests that the decline in the local population of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper was not part of a general decline in populations of wintering shorebirds due to local factors. Estimates of the mean trend of other Spoon-billed Sandpiper local populations and of the world population all indicate declines at broadly similar rates. We recommend immediate reassessment of threats faced by the Spoon-billed Sandpiper and improved conservation interventions.

Date
16 June 2022
Authors
Chowdhury, Sayam U Foysal, Mohammod Green, Rhys E
Published in
Journal of Ornithology
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Slow sink rate in floated-demersal longline and implications for seabird bycatch risk

Bycatch of birds in longline fisheries is a global conservation issue, with between 160,000–320,000 seabirds killed each year, primarily through being caught and drowned as they attempt to snatch baits off hooks as they are set. This conservation issue has received significant recognition in southern hemisphere longline fisheries over the past several decades, largely due to the impact on highly charismatic and highly threatened birds, notably Albatrosses. As a result, the use of effective mitigation measures has been subject to fisheries regulations to reduce seabird bycatch from longliners in a number of national jurisdictions and in several Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RMFOs). While mitigation measures have been mandated in a number of north Pacific longline fisheries, this is largely not the case in north Atlantic longline fisheries. This includes vessels using floated-demersal longlines in the North-East Atlantic longline fishery targeting European Hake Merluccius merluccius, in which high levels of seabird bycatch are estimated. In this paper, we analysed the sinking speed of a floated-demersal longline used to target European Hake in the offshore waters of Scotland, to determine potential bycatch risks to seabirds. We deployed Time Depth Recorder devices at different points of the gear. We assessed how this gear performed in comparison to the best practice minimum sink rate of 0.3 m/s recommended by the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) to limit bird access to baited hooks. We found that the average sinking speed of the floated-demersal longline was substantially slower than the ACAP recommendation, between two and nine times slower in non-weighted parts of the gear down to 10m water depth. Our work also found that the sink rate is particularly slow in the top 2m of the water column, increasing with depth and stabilizing at depths over 10m, presumably a consequence of propeller wash behind the vessel. We calculated that the distance astern of the vessel for hooks to sink beyond susceptible seabirds’ reach largely exceeds optimum coverage of best practice design Bird Scaring Lines (100 m). Our results indicate that hooks from floated-demersal longlines are therefore readily open to seabird attacks, and as a result, present a clear bycatch risk. Research is needed to adapt existing mitigation measures to floated-longlines and to develop novel mitigation approaches to improve the sink rate of the gear without impacting target fish catch.

Date
28 April 2022
RSPB Authors
Ian Cleasby
Authors
Rouxel, Yann Crawford, Rory Buratti, Juan Pablo Forti Cleasby, Ian R
Published in
PloS one
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Examining diversity of terrestrial mammal communities across forest reserves in Sabah, Borneo

Tropical forest reserves have conservation value for terrestrial mammals and are threatened by anthropogenic pressures, especially conversion to other land-use types. To assess mammalian biodiversity of forest reserves in Sabah, Borneo, we used camera trapping data to estimate species richness, beta diversity, phylogenetic and functional diversity in nine forest reserves with different management classifications and backgrounds. Multiregional multispecies occupancy models (MSOM) were used to differentiate species occupancy in the reserves, and the estimates were transformed into biodiversity metrics. We found a significant difference in mammal composition within each forest reserve, with various functional and phylogenetic clustering or dispersion levels indicated by the standard effect of mean pairwise distances (SES MPD). Redundancy analysis (RDA) was used for both the observed data and MSOM estimates, modeling numerous environmental covariates and the forest reserves as random effects, finding that the forest reserve random effects were mainly responsible for structuring the mammal communities. Deramakot Forest Reserve was found to have overall high species richness, phylogenetic and functional diversity compared to other reserves. This reserve has been particularly successful at sustainable forest management and long-term forest certification, highlighting long-term conservation gains of sustainability programs for terrestrial mammalian diversity. Conversely, several reserves showed lower diversity scores overall than IUCN presumed extant species lists, highlighting local defaunation while still retaining high profile (critically endangered, endangered, and vulnerable) species. This study highlights the fragility of terrestrial mammal assemblages in forest reserves across the state and the need for mitigation, refaunation, and an integrated approach to forest management and biodiversity conservation to allow for comprehensive sustainable management programs to ensure long-term conservation.

Date
20 April 2022
RSPB Authors
Dr Penny Gardner
Authors
Bohnett, Eve Goossens, Benoit Bakar, Mohd Soffian Abu Abidin, Tommy Rowel Lim, Hong-Ye Hulse, David Ahmad, Bilal Hoctor, Thomas Gardner, Penny
Published in
Biodiversity and Conservation
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Bird populations most exposed to climate change are less sensitive to climatic variation

The phenology of many species shows strong sensitivity to climate change; however, with few large scale intra-specific studies it is unclear how such sensitivity varies over a species’ range. We document large intra-specific variation in phenological sensitivity to temperature using laying date information from 67 populations of two co-familial European songbirds, the great tit (Parus major) and blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus), covering a large part of their breeding range. Populations inhabiting deciduous habitats showed stronger phenological sensitivity than those in evergreen and mixed habitats. However, populations with higher sensitivity tended to have experienced less rapid change in climate over the past decades, such that populations with high phenological sensitivity will not necessarily exhibit the strongest phenological advancement. Our results show that to effectively assess the impact of climate change on phenology across a species’ range it will be necessary to account for intra-specific variation in phenological sensitivity, climate change exposure, and the ecological characteristics of a population.

Date
19 April 2022
RSPB Authors
Dr Malcolm Burgess
Authors
Bailey, Liam D van de Pol, Martijn Adriaensen, Frank Arct, Aneta Barba, Emilio Bellamy, Paul E Bonamour, Suzanne Bouvier, Jean-Charles Burgess, Malcolm D Charmantier, Anne Cusimano, Camillo Doligez, Blandine Drobniak, Szymon M Dubiec, Anna Eens, Marcel Eeva, Tapio Ferns, Peter N Goodenough, Anne E Hartley, Ian R Hinsley, Shelley A Ivankina, Elena Juškaitis, Rimvydas Kempenaers, Bart Kerimov, Anvar B Lavigne, Claire Leivits, Agu Mainwaring, Mark C Matthysen, Erik Nilsson, Jan-Åke Orell, Markku Rytkönen, Seppo Senar, Juan Carlos Sheldon, Ben C Sorace, Alberto Stenning, Martyn J Török, János van Oers, Kees Vatka, Emma Vriend, Stefan JG Visser, Marcel E
Published in
Nature Communications
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Bird populations most exposed to climate change are less sensitive to climatic variation

The phenology of many species shows strong sensitivity to climate change; however, with few large scale intra-specific studies it is unclear how such sensitivity varies over a species’ range. We document large intra-specific variation in phenological sensitivity to temperature using laying date information from 67 populations of two co-familial European songbirds, the great tit (Parus major) and blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus), covering a large part of their breeding range. Populations inhabiting deciduous habitats showed stronger phenological sensitivity than those in evergreen and mixed habitats. However, populations with higher sensitivity tended to have experienced less rapid change in climate over the past decades, such that populations with high phenological sensitivity will not necessarily exhibit the strongest phenological advancement. Our results show that to effectively assess the impact of climate change on phenology across a species’ range it will be necessary to account for intra-specific variation in phenological sensitivity, climate change exposure, and the ecological characteristics of a population.

Date
19 April 2022
RSPB Authors
Dr Malcolm Burgess
Authors
Bailey, Liam D van de Pol, Martijn Adriaensen, Frank Arct, Aneta Barba, Emilio Bellamy, Paul E Bonamour, Suzanne Bouvier, Jean-Charles Burgess, Malcolm D Charmantier, Anne Cusimano, Camillo Doligez, Blandine Drobniak, Szymon M Dubiec, Anna Eens, Marcel Eeva, Tapio Ferns, Peter N Goodenough, Anne E Hartley, Ian R Hinsley, Shelley A Ivankina, Elena Juškaitis, Rimvydas Kempenaers, Bart Kerimov, Anvar B Lavigne, Claire Leivits, Agu Mainwaring, Mark C Matthysen, Erik Nilsson, Jan-Åke Orell, Markku Rytkönen, Seppo Senar, Juan Carlos Sheldon, Ben C Sorace, Alberto Stenning, Martyn J Török, János Oers, Kees van Vatka, Emma Vriend, Stefan JG Visser, Marcel E
Published in
Nature Communications
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Hotspots in the grid: avian sensitivity and vulnerability to collision risk from energy infrastructure interactions in Europe and North Africa

Wind turbines and power lines can cause bird mortality due to collision or electrocution. The biodiversity impacts of energy infrastructure (EI) can be minimised through effective landscape-scale planning and mitigation. The identification of high-vulnerability areas is urgently needed to assess potential cumulative impacts of EI while supporting the transition to zero carbon energy.
We collected GPS location data from 1,454 birds from 27 species susceptible to collision within Europe and North Africa and identified areas where tracked birds are most at risk of colliding with existing EI. Sensitivity to EI development was estimated for wind turbines and power lines by calculating the proportion of GPS flight locations at heights where birds were at risk of collision and accounting for species' specific susceptibility to collision. We mapped the maximum collision sensitivity value obtained across all species, in each 5 × 5 km grid cell, across Europe and North Africa. Vulnerability to collision was obtained by overlaying the sensitivity surfaces with density of wind turbines and transmission power lines.
Results: Exposure to risk varied across the 27 species, with some species flying consistently at heights where they risk collision. For areas with sufficient tracking data within Europe and North Africa, 13.6% of the area was classified as high sensitivity to wind turbines and 9.4% was classified as high sensitivity to transmission power lines. Sensitive areas were concentrated within important migratory corridors and along coastlines. Hotspots of vulnerability to collision with wind turbines and transmission power lines (2018 data) were scattered across the study region with highest concentrations occurring in central Europe, near the strait of Gibraltar and the Bosporus in Turkey.
Synthesis and applications. We identify the areas of Europe and North Africa that are most sensitive for the specific populations of birds for which sufficient GPS tracking data at high spatial resolution were available. We also map vulnerability hotspots where mitigation at existing EI should be prioritised to reduce collision risks. As tracking data availability improves our method could be applied to more species and areas to help reduce bird-EI conflicts.

Date
11 April 2022
RSPB Authors
Dr Steffen Oppel
Authors
Bladon, Andrew J. Lewis, Matthew Bladon, Eleanor K. Buckton, Sam J. Corbett, Stuart Ewing, Steven R. Hayes, Matthew P. Hitchcock, Gwen E. Knock, Richard Lucas, Colin McVeigh, Adam Menéndez, Rosa Walker, Jonah M. Fayle, Tom M. Turner, Edgar C.
Published in
Journal of Applied Ecology
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Assessing rates of parasite coinfection and spatiotemporal strain variation via metabarcoding: insights for the conservation of European Turtle Doves Streptopelia turtur

Understanding the frequency, spatiotemporal dynamics and impacts of parasite coinfections is fundamental to developing control measures and predicting disease impacts. The European turtle dove (Streptopelia turtur) is one of Europe's most threatened bird species. High prevalence of infection by the protozoan parasite Trichomonas gallinae has previously been identified, but the role of this and other coinfecting parasites in turtle dove declines remains unclear. Using a high-throughput sequencing approach, we identified seven strains of T. gallinae, including two novel strains, from ITS1/5.8S/ITS2 ribosomal sequences in turtle doves on breeding and wintering grounds, with further intrastrain variation and four novel subtypes revealed by the iron-hydrogenase gene. High spatiotemporal turnover was observed in T. gallinae strain composition, and infection was prevalent in all populations (89%–100%). Coinfection by multiple Trichomonas strains was rarer than expected (1% observed compared to 38.6% expected), suggesting either within-host competition, or high mortality of coinfected individuals. In contrast, coinfection by multiple haemosporidians was common (43%), as was coinfection by haemosporidians and T. gallinae (90%), with positive associations between strains of T. gallinae and Leucocytozoon suggesting a mechanism such as parasite-induced immune modulation. We found no evidence for negative associations between coinfections and host body condition. We suggest that longitudinal studies involving the recapture and investigation of infection status of individuals over their lifespan are crucial to understand the epidemiology of coinfections in natural populations.

Date
22 March 2022
RSPB Authors
Dr Tony Morris, Chris Orsman, Dr John Mallord
Authors
Thomas, Rebecca C Dunn, Jenny C Dawson, Deborah A Hipperson, Helen Horsburgh, Gavin J Morris, Antony J Orsman, Chris Mallord, John Grice, Philip V Hamer, Keith C
Published in
Molecular Ecology
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Commentary: Not All Vulture Feeding Stations are Supplementary—Proposed Terminology for Carcass Provisioning with Reference to Management Goals and Food Sources

Although vulture feeding stations are a widely used tool for vulture conservation in many regions worldwide, there has been some confusion about their functions and this is reflected in the range of terminology used. The origin of food supply at provisioning sites (both for in situ and ex situ situations) and the goals of feeding station managers (ranging from purely conservation of vultures to the necessity for carcass disposal) are two key aspects that are often neglected. We review the definitions and nomenclature for the provision of predictable anthropogenic food for vultures and vultures' role in sanitation in the landscape. We propose that “supplementary feeding stations for vultures” (SFSV) defines a particular case and this term should only be applied when a station has vulture conservation goals and a food supply coming from outside of the landscape (ex situ). We introduce the term “recycling station with vultures” (RSV) for cases when the goal is the elimination of carcasses and the food is sourced in situ (natural, NRSV) or ex situ (supplementary food, SRSV). This clarification of goals and terminology for feeding stations worldwide could have important consequences for the understanding and assessment of vulture conservation and management actions, among researchers and conservationists and also importantly among stakeholders and wider society.

Date
01 March 2022
Authors
Duriez, Olivier Andevski, Jovan Bowden, Christopher GR Camiña-Cardenal, Alvaro Frey, Hans Genero, Fulvio Hatzofe, Ohad Llopis-Dell, Alex Néouze, Raphaël Phipps, Louis
Published in
Journal of Raptor Research
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