Palacín, C., Martín, B., Onrubia, A. & Alonso, J. C. 2016. Assessing the extinction risk of the great bustard Otis tarda in Africa. Endang Species Res 30: 73–82. doi: 10.3354/esr00726 (Open Access)
We studied the dynamics and trend of the last extant population of great bustards Otis tarda in Africa. Moroccan great bustards are the southernmost population of this species, and thus show the characteristics of a peripheral population: small size, isolation and low gene flow. Available counts indicate a severe population decline (62% in the last 15 yr), as well as a contraction of the species’ distribution. We used a population viability analysis (PVA) to evaluate the quasi-extinction risk and to identify the most important threats. The estimated geometric growth rate of the more realistic of a set of possible scenarios was 0.87 (95% CI: 0.85, 0.89). This implies a 13% annual decline over 50 yr. However, projections derived from these results should be interpreted with caution, because models have a great deal of uncertainty and vital rates from Iberian populations may be different from those of the Moroccan population. PVA showed the negative consequence of human-induced mortality. According to the model that best fits our census data and if present threats remain in the coming years, this peripheral population could go extinct in ca. 20 yr. Agricultural intensification, infrastructure developments and new power lines in rural areas where the species occurs are causing habitat destruction and fragmentation and increasing artificial mortality. Urgent conservation measures, especially to reduce human-induced mortality, are needed to save African great bustards from extinction. We suggest that these findings can be generalized to other peripheral great bustard populations living in highly humanized landscapes.
Amount and quality of resources may be variable and generally poor in habitats of marginal avian populations living at the edge of species breeding range. We studied variation in egg traits (length, breadth, volume and shape) in three populations of the African Blue TitCyanistes caeruleus ultramarinus inhabiting degraded habitats in highlands of Algerian Saharan Atlas at mean altitudes 1328–1437 m a.s.l. We found high within-clutch repeatability of all the egg traits studied. As theoretically expected in peripheral parts of the species geographic range, there was considerable variation in egg-size traits among the study populations, with eggs being distinctly smaller and more elongated at a site characterised by most human-modified habitat composed of maquis scrubland with rare Pistacia trees. Egg length and shape tended to be affected by the altitude of nest site and by clutch size, but not laying date. We found some effects of egg traits on hatching and fledging success, suggesting that fitness advantage of egg sizes is dependent of egg shape. We conclude that the above patterns of variation in egg size and shape of the African Blue Tit populations have influence of fitness. Our finding of considerable variation in egg traits between separate peripheral populations confirms the theoretical expectation and seems to be a novel result.