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Estimating conservation metrics from atlas data: the case of southern African endemic birds

  • ALAN T. K. LEE (a1) (a2), RES ALTWEGG (a3) (a4) and PHOEBE BARNARD (a1) (a2) (a4)
Summary

The robust assessment of conservation status increasingly requires population metrics for species that may be little-researched, with no prospect of immediate improvement, but for which citizen science atlas data may exist. We explore the potential for bird atlas data to generate population metrics of use in red data assessment, using the endemic and near-endemic birds of southern Africa. This region, defined here as South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, is home to a large number of endemic bird species and an active atlas project. The Southern African Bird Atlas Projects (SABAP) 1 and 2 are large-scale citizen science data sets, consisting of hundreds of thousands of bird checklists and > 10 million bird occurrence records on a grid across the subcontinent. These data contain detailed information on species’ distributions and population change. For conservationists, metrics that guide decisions on the conservation status of a species for red listing can be obtained from SABAP, including range size, range change, population change, and range connectivity (fragmentation). We present a range of conservation metrics for these bird species, focusing on population change metrics together with an associated statistical confidence metric. Population change metrics correlate with change metrics calculated from dynamic occupancy modelling for a set of 191 common species. We identify four species with neither international nor local threatened status, yet for which bird atlas data suggest alarming declines, and two species with threatened status for which our metrics suggest could be reconsidered. A standardised approach to deciding the conservation status of a species is useful so that charismatic or flagship species do not receive disproportionate attention, although ultimately conservation status of any species must always be a consultative process.

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*Author for correspondence; e-mail: alan.tk.lee@googlemail.com
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