Rangeland loss and population decline of the critically endangered Liben Lark Heteromirafra archeri in southern Ethiopia

Bruktawit Mahamued, Paul Donald, Nigel Collar, Stuart Marsden, Paul Ndang’ang’a, Mengistu Wondafrash, Yilma Abebe, James Bennett, Simon Wotton, Daniel Gornall, Huw Lloyd

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    Abstract

    Liben Lark Heteromirafra archeri is a ‘Critically Endangered’ species threatened by the loss and degradation of grassland at the Liben Plain, southern Ethiopia, one of only two known sites for the species. We use field data from nine visits between 2007 and 2019 and satellite imagery to quantify changes over time in the species’ abundance and in the extent and quality of its habitat. We estimate that the population fell from around 279 singing males (95% CL: 182–436) in 2007
    to around 51 (14–144) in 2013, after which too few birds were recorded to estimate population size. Arable cultivation first appeared on the plain in the early 1990s and by 2019 more than a third of the plain had been converted to crops. Cultivation was initially confined to the fertile black soils but from 2008 began to spread into the less fertile red soils that cover most of the plain. Liben Larks strongly avoided areas with extensive bare ground or trees and bushes, but the extent
    of these did not change significantly over the survey period. A plausible explanation for the species’ decline is that grassland degradation, caused before 2007 by continuous high-pressure grazing by livestock, reduced its rates of reproduction or survival to a level that could not support its previous population. Since 2015, communal kalos (grazing exclosures) have been established to generate forage and other resources in the hope of also providing breeding habitat for Liben
    Larks. Grass height and density within four grassland kalos in 2018 greatly exceeded that in the surrounding grassland, indicating that the plain retains the potential to recover rapidly if appropriately managed. Improvement of grassland structure through the restitution of traditional and sustainable rangeland management regimes and the reversion of cereal agriculture to grassland are urgently needed to avert the species’ extinction.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages14
    JournalBird Conservation International
    Volume(In-Press)
    Early online date11 Jan 2021
    DOIs
    Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 Jan 2021

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    Keywords

    • Ethiopia
    • Extinction
    • Birds
    • Alaudidae

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