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The potential breeding range of Slender-billed Curlew Numenius tenuirostris identified from stable-isotope analysis



The breeding areas of the Critically Endangered Slender-billed Curlew Numenius tenuirostris are all but unknown, with the only well-substantiated breeding records being from the Omsk province, western Siberia. The identification of any remaining breeding population is of the highest priority for the conservation of any remnant population. If it is extinct, the reliable identification of former breeding sites may help determine the causes of the species’ decline, in order to learn wider conservation lessons. We used stable isotope values in feather samples from juvenile Slender-billed Curlews to identify potential breeding areas. Modelled precipitation δ2H data were compared to feather samples of surrogate species from within the potential breeding range, to produce a calibration equation. Application of this calibration to samples from 35 Slender-billed Curlew museum skins suggested they could have originated from the steppes of northern Kazakhstan and part of southern Russia between 48°N and 56°N. The core of this area was around 50°N, some way to the south of the confirmed nesting sites in the forest steppes. Surveys for the species might be better targeted at the Kazakh steppes, rather than around the historically recognised nest sites of southern Russia which might have been atypical for the species. We consider whether agricultural expansion in this area may have contributed to declines of the Slender-billed Curlew population.


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current address: British Trust for Ornithology, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, UK.


current address: Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, UK.



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The potential breeding range of Slender-billed Curlew Numenius tenuirostris identified from stable-isotope analysis



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