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Impacts of survival and reproductive success on the long-term population viability of reintroduced great bustards Otis tarda in the UK

  • Kate Ashbrook (a1), Andrew Taylor (a2), Louise Jane (a2), Ian Carter (a3) and Tamás Székely (a1)...

Reintroductions aim to re-establish species within their historical ranges through the release of wild- or captive-bred individuals following extirpation (or extinction) in the wild. There is no general agreement on what constitutes a successful reintroduction but the probability of the population achieving long-term persistence should be addressed. Here we review a 10-year trial reintroduction of the great bustard Otis tarda, a globally threatened bird species, to the UK and assess the long-term population viability. Despite changes in rearing and release strategy, initial post-release survival probability remained consistently low, with only 11.3% of bustards (n = 167) surviving from release to 1 year post-release. Nineteen breeding attempts were made by eight females; however, only one chick survived > 100 days after hatching, and no wild juveniles have recruited into the population. Using demographic rates from the UK population and wild populations elsewhere, and stochastic population modelling, we investigate the viability of this reintroduced population by predicting population size over the next 10 years. Under current demographic rates the population was predicted to decline rapidly. Self-sufficiency was predicted only using the highest estimates from the UK population for first-year and adult survival, and recruitment rates from wild populations elsewhere. Although changes have been made in rearing, release strategies, habitat management and release sites used, these changes appear to have a modest effect on long-term viability. Substantial improvements in survival rates and productivity are necessary to establish a viable great bustard population in the UK, and we consider this unlikely.

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