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Distribution, movements, and survival of the critically endangered Bengal Florican Houbaropsis bengalensis in India and Nepal

Abstract

We undertook field surveys of the critically endangered Bengal Florican throughout its range in India and Nepal and used the results to develop models of distribution to identify new populations. We also tagged 11 birds with satellite transmitters to assess their distribution and habitat use during the non-breeding season, about which nothing is known. The models suggest that the distribution is now extremely fragmented in the west, although potentially sizeable populations may await discovery in eastern parts of the species’ range, particularly along the Brahmaputra River. After breeding, tagged birds left their breeding sites inside protected areas (PAs) and moved up to 80 km into landscapes characterised by relatively low-intensity agriculture along rivers with lower than average human population densities. Many birds spent more than six months away from their breeding grounds outside PAs. Models of non-breeding distribution suggest that some breeding areas become unsuitable at that time of the year, and therefore that birds may be forced to leave PAs at that time. Tagged birds had high annual adult survival rates (0.92, 95% confidence interval 0.858–0.953). Home ranges during the non-breeding season were significantly larger than breeding season home ranges. The results suggest that the conservation of this species needs to account for the species’ use outside the breeding season of less intensively cultivated floodplain-agricultural landscapes, as well as protecting breeding grassland sites.

Zusammenfassung

Verbreitung, Bewegungsmuster und Überleben der stark gefährdeten Barttrappe ( Houbaropsis bengalensis ) in Indien und Nepal

Wir untersuchten die sehr stark gefährdete Barttrappe in ihrem gesamten Verbreitungsgebiet in Indien und Nepal und entwickelten anhand der Ergebnisse Verbreitungsmodelle, die Aufschluss über neue Populationen geben könnten. Außerdem versahen wir 11 Vögel mit Satellitensendern, um mehr Informationen über ihre Verbreitung und Habitatnutzung außerhalb der Brutsaison zu bekommen, da hierüber bislang nichts bekannt ist. Unsere Modelle lassen vermuten, dass die Verbreitung im Westen zur Zeit extrem fragmentiert ist, wobei es im Osten des Verbreitungsgebiets der Barttrappe, vor allem entlang des Brahmaputra-Flusses, möglicherweise noch potentiell ausreichend große Populationen gibt. Nach der Brutzeit verließen die mit Sendern versehenen Vögel ihre in Naturschutzgebieten liegenden Brutgebiete und wanderten bis zu 80 km weit in Flussgebiete mit relativ wenig Landwirtschaft und besonders geringer menschlicher Besiedlung. Viele Vögel verbrachten mehr als sechs Monate außerhalb der Naturschutzgebiete, fernab ihrer Brutgebiete. Modelle der Verbreitungsmuster außerhalb der Brutzeit lassen vermuten, dass einige der Brutgebiete zu der Jahreszeit ungeeignet sind und die Vögel deshalb gezwungen sein könnten, die Naturschutzgebiete in dieser Jahreszeit zu verlassen. Die markierten Vögel zeigten für Adulte hohe jährliche Überlebensraten (0,92; 95% CI 0,858–0,953). Der normalerweise genutzte Lebensraum war außerhalb der Brutzeit signifikant größer als während der Brutzeit. Unsere Ergebnisse legen nahe, dass neben dem Schutz der Wiesen und Weiden während der Brutzeit für den Schutz dieser Art auch ihre Nutzung der weniger intensiv kultivierten Flussauen sowie landwirtschaftlich genutzter Flächen außerhalb der Brutzeit berücksichtigt werden sollten.

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Acknowledgements

For help with trapping, we are extremely grateful to Ali Hussain, Sikandar Hussain, Lotty Packman, Marcus Handschuh and Jacky Judas. For other help in the field and other support in India we thank the MoEF&CC, Rupak De, Sanjaya Singh, V. K. Singh, Mahaveer Koujalagi, M. K. Yadava, Tashi Mize, Kailash Prakash, Sonali Ghosh, Siva Kumar, Narendra Upadhyaya, K. N. Gautam, K. P. Singh, Vinod Tiwari, Sonu Liladhar, Iphra Mekola, Smarajit Ojah, Bibhab Talukdar, Namita Brahma, Bibhuti Lahkar, Biswajit Chakdar, Manabendra Ray Choudhury, Rohit Ravi, Rekha Warrier, the late Carl D’silva, Rajat Bhargava, Mohit Kalra, Rohan Bhagat, Deepak Apte; forest staff and forest departments of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh States, and the administrative staff of Bombay Natural History Society. For help in Nepal we thank the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation, Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, Krishna Prasad Acharya, Meg Bahadur Pandey, Gopal Prakash Bhattarai, Laxman Poudyal, Rishi Ranabhat, Mahananda Joshi, Eshwar Pant, Badri Chaudhary, Anish Timsina, Arjun Karki, Bashu Bidari, Hum Gurung, Sushila Nepali, Rajendra Dhungana, Ganga Bahadur Singh, Annanath Baral, Bed Khadka, Ramchandra Kandel, Kamaljung Kunwar, Nurendra Aryal, Bishnu Thapaliya, Gopal Ghimire, Bed Bahadur Dhakal, Yubraj Ghimire, Shambhu Ghimire, Hem Bahadur Katuwal and Ishana Thapa. This study was funded by the UK Darwin Initiative (grant no. 19-011) and the Indian MoEF&CC. Rohit Jha is grateful to the Miriam Rothschild Travel Bursary Programme for funding a 4-week internship with the RSPB in Cambridge, UK. We are grateful to Jonathan Handley, Nigel Collar and three anonymous reviewers for useful comments on this paper.

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Correspondence to Rohit R. S. Jha.

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Research involving human participants and/or animals

All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed and required permissions from national and state authorities as per prevalent legislation of the country were arranged before trapping animals. Raw datasets and/or those analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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Communicated by F. Bairlein.

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Jha, R.R.S., Thakuri, J.J., Rahmani, A.R. et al. Distribution, movements, and survival of the critically endangered Bengal Florican Houbaropsis bengalensis in India and Nepal. J Ornithol 159, 851–866 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-018-1552-1

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Keywords

  • Subtropical grassland
  • Bird conservation
  • Bustard
  • Species distribution models
  • Terai
  • Satellite telemetry