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Factors influencing the distribution and abundance of endemic pigeons on São Tomé Island (Gulf of Guinea)


Understanding the factors that determine habitat use and abundance of exploited species is essential to develop effective conservation strategies. We studied the four forest pigeons on São Tomé Island to assess the species’ distribution and abundance patterns. We determined ecological factors likely to be associated with each species’ use of habitats and numbers, as well as the influence of hunting pressure. In total, 35 km of line transects were surveyed in the rainy season and at the start of the dry season. Pigeons differed in their use of habitats; there were also strong seasonality effects. The most abundant species was the Lemon Dove Columba simplex, the only non-hunted species. The São Tomé Green Pigeon Treron sanctithomae and Maroon Pigeon Columba thomensis were less abundant and had more restricted ranges. Both species were strongly associated with old-growth forests. In contrast, the Bronze-naped Pigeon Columba malherbii was relatively abundant and widespread; this species favours human-altered habitats such as shade forests and non-forested areas. Fruit availability measured within the different habitats was linked with the distribution and abundance of the three hunted species. Potential human predation pressure on all species was determined from hunting signs found along the surveyed transects. There was a significant negative correlation between the abundance of two of the hunted species and hunting pressure. Our results indicate the importance of adequately protecting old-growth and secondary forests as core habitats for the survival of viable populations of all pigeon species in the island. However, control of hunting is also crucial.

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Bird Conservation International
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