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Population responses of the Endangered White-breasted Thrasher Ramphocinclus brachyurus to a tourist development in Saint Lucia – conservation implications from a spatial modelling approach

  • RACHEL L. WHITE (a1), TIMOTHEUS JN. BAPTISTE (a1), ALWIN DORNELLY (a2), MATTHEW N. MORTON (a3), MARK J. O’CONNELL (a4) and RICHARD P. YOUNG (a3) (a5)...

Summary

Tourism development is one of the main contemporary drivers of habitat loss and fragmentation within the Caribbean Islands biodiversity hotspot. In Saint Lucia, construction of a hotel and golf course within coastal dry forest is directly threatening the largest known subpopulation of the Endangered White-breasted Thrasher Ramphocinclus brachyurus. Understanding how the species is responding to ongoing landscape change and identifying priority sites for conservation are imperative for planning its long-term conservation. In this study, a four year White-breasted Thrasher monitoring dataset (2006–2009) and landscape-scale environmental variables were used to: a) identify, characterise and map spatio-temporal patterns of White-breasted Thrasher encounter rate (an abundance proxy) within and outside the tourist development site; b) determine landscape-scale environmental variables that influence such patterns, and c) produce an island-wide predictive map of potentially suitable habitat. Observed patterns in encounter rates within and outside the development site were consistent with thrashers being displaced from cleared areas of forest and crowding into intact forest patches to the north and west of the golf course. A year after the period of the most extensive habitat clearance, White-breasted Thrasher numbers declined markedly leading to a 55% reduction in encounter rate within the development site over the four years of the study. The habitat suitability model predicted that a range of sites outside of the known geographic range of the thrasher are potentially suitable, some of which merit further surveys for potentially undetected populations. Given these findings, it is vital that patches of suitable dry forest adjacent to the tourist development are protected and contiguous natural habitat inside the tourist development is preserved.

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Corresponding author

*Author for correspondence; e-mail: rlw22@kent.ac.uk

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