Friday, 22 November 2013

What future for large fruit-eating birds in the Philippines?

Posted by Carmela Espanola & Stuart Marsden

First, the whole group would like to congratulate Carmela Espanola on her recent PhD conferment. Her PhD, funded by Loro Parque Fundacion, focused on parrots and other large frugivores in the dwindling forests of Luzon. There are several important aspects to this PhD which we hope to publish in the future. This potentially very important paper has just been published.

Large frugivorous (fruit-eating) birds are incredibly important. People know them, eat them, and keep them as pets. A huge number are threatened worldwide. Crucially, most provide irreplaceable ecosystem function by dispersing the seeds of tropical trees. 

Carmela and her team surveyed 25 frugivore species using ‘distance sampling’ along nearly 500 km of line transects at 14 sites across the island of Luzon. Most frugivores seemed at least to be hanging on at most forested sites – although one species, the Green Racquet-tail, a lowland parrot has been recorded at only seven sites in the last ten years. Still more alarming was the absence of large parrots from most sites with apparently intact habitat surveyed. Worryingly, even where present, large parrots occurred at much lower densities than related species in similar habitat elsewhere in Southeast Asia. 

She estimated population sizes for species in five reserves selected from the current 
protected area network. For six species, including four of six parrots, largest populations in any reserve in Luzon numbered <1,000 individuals, and nearly one-third of all populations in reserves were less than 100. If we consider that animals might have a minimum viable population (MVP) below which they are likely doomed to extinction, then we can try to look into the future to see which frugivores will still be around in which reserves. At MVPs of 500, frugivore communities in all but 2–3 of the largest reserves on Luzon are not expected to survive. 

Although many frugivores are good fliers that can disperse between widely separated sites, we nevertheless predict that without stricter species and site protection a major collapse of frugivore communities will occur across Luzon. This will have very serious implications for ecosystem functioning of the forests themselves and for indigenous communities dependent on the island’s forests to live.

A grant that Carmela recently secured from the National Science Research Institute of the University of the Philippines will allow further work on cavity-nesting frugivores where breeding ecology will be investigated and nest availability/competition will be assessed at two adjoining reserves in western Luzon. These are the only reserves in Luzon where a thriving population of the Green Racquet-tail, a threatened Luzon-endemic parrot, is still found. Volunteers with experience in tropical ecological research and training in tree-climbing are welcome to join the fieldwork from April-May 2014 (email

Thanks to Adrian Constantino of Birding Adventure Philippines (parrot photos), Chris Johns (hornbill photo) and Arnel Telesforo (tree photo) for letting us use their stunning images. 

Carmela Espanola's PhD was funded by Loro Parque Fundacion

Monday, 18 November 2013

Can we make space for the Kipunji?

Posted by Claire Bracebridge and Stuart Marsden

Just published on-line at International Journal of Primatology:

The recently described kipunji Rungwecebus kipunji is endemic to two mountains in Tanzania. The species has a tiny extent of occurrence (42 sq km) and an estimated population of just over 1,000 individuals. Previous research in Rungwe (Bracebridge et al. 2011) found  that there is limited room for expansion of the range of kipunji within the forest – mainly because the areas of forest currently unoccupied are at higher altitudes which are unsuitable for the species. More suitable would be areas at lower altitude but these have unfortunately already been deforested to make way for agriculture. This paper examined Kipunji’s use of areas outside the forest and how such areas might be used in future conservation efforts. 
The recently discovered Kipunji is one of the World's Critically Endangered primates.

Land outside protected forest is dominated by subsistence agriculture with tiny patches of forest covering around 2% of the land within 10 km of the forest boundary. Kipunji rarely venture outside the forest block but do occasionally crop-raid people’s maize and, of course, people react to crop losses. The Bujingijila corridor (2.1 sq km) is a priority site for reforestation, particularly in the context of ongoing ‘Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+)’ activities. Reforesting Bujingijila could provide habitat for an additional 88 kipunji (an 8% increase in the population). Bujingijila has the additional benefit of reconnecting the Mt. Rungwe and Livingstone kipunji subpopulations.


Bracebridge, C.E., Davenport, T.R.B. & Marsden, S.J. (2011) Can we extend the area of occupancy of the kipunji, a critically endangered African primate? Animal Conservation 14: 687-696


Claire’s PhD was funded by Wildlife Conservation Society – Tanzania  


Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Second Edition of ‘Facing Extinction’ published in paperback

Posted by Stuart Marsden

Just in time for Christmas, a second edition of our book ‘Facing Extinction: The world's rarest birds and the race to save them’ has been published in paperback.  The book, by Paul Donald of RSPB, Nigel Collar of BirdLife International, Debbie Pain from WWT, and myself, is about the world’s Critically Endangered birds. It has chapters looking at rarity, extinction, birds on islands and conservation efforts, but the bulk of the book is a series of cases studies on individual species. These include well-known birds such as Philippine Eagle and Spix’s Macaw, as well as some less-well known ones such as Royal Cincloides and Madagascar Pochard. 

For a review of the first edition, see, for example,
For a preview or to purchase the book click here.

This edition is updated, based on status changes of the key species (especially the bird on the front cover, the Spoon-billed Sandpiper) and, importantly, is less than half the price of the hardback first edition. As with the first edition, all royalties from sales of the book go to BirdLife International’s Preventing Extinctions Programme.