Rangeland degradation is poised to cause Africa's first recorded avian extinction


Claire N. Spottiswoode, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, UK.
Email: cns26@cam.ac.uk


Rangeland degradation by livestock threatens several restricted-range species, but is largely overlooked by conservation biologists. The Sidamo lark Heteromirafra sidamoensis, confined to the Liben Plain grassland in southern Ethiopia, is critically endangered by bush encroachment, permanent settlement and agricultural conversion. Its global range was previously estimated at 760 km2, but in 2007–2008 available habitat covered<35 km2. Density estimates from multi-model inference analysis of distance transect data provided a global population estimate of 90–256 adults (possibly with a serious sex-ratio bias towards males). Logistic regression models of habitat selection showed that males preferentially occurred in areas of grassland with greater cover of medium-length grass (5–15 cm), less cover of bare ground and fewer bushes. Habitat transects extending outward from its core range revealed massive and rapid bush encroachment, corroborating information from semi-structured interviews. The survival of both local Borana pastoralism and this species – mainland Africa's likeliest first avian extinction – depends on restoring seasonal patterns of grazing, resisting agricultural conversion of grasslands, reversing fire suppression policies and clearing bush.