• agriculture;
  • grazing;
  • habitat suitability models;
  • Kazakhstan

Habitat associations and distribution of breeding Sociable Lapwings were examined in 2004–2008 in central Kazakhstan to develop and assess hypotheses relating to the species’ decline and high conservation threat status. At a landscape scale, breeding colonies were strongly positively associated with villages and rivers. Habitat suitability models had very high predictive power and suggested that only 6.6–8.0% of the 30 000-km2 study area was potentially suitable for Sociable Lapwings. Models developed to describe the spatial distribution of nests in one region of Kazakhstan in one year predicted well the distribution of nests in another region, suggesting good generality. At a colony scale, nests were most likely to be found in the most heavily grazed areas, with a high cover of animal dung and bare ground. Despite the low density of human settlements in the study area, most Sociable Lapwing nests were < 2 km from a village. Patterns of grazing were assessed by fitting GPS loggers to cattle. There was a strong positive correlation around villages between grazing intensity and the density of Sociable Lapwing nests, with clear evidence of a threshold of grazing density that needs to be reached before birds will breed. This high degree of synanthropy, perhaps unique in a critically endangered bird, is likely to result from post-Soviet changes in steppe management and offers both threats and opportunities to the species’ conservation.