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Keywords:

  • Conservation dilemma;
  • economic development;
  • ecosystem services;
  • Egyptian vulture;
  • human-vulture mutualism;
  • Socotra;
  • urban biomes;
  • waste management

Abstract

In parallel with economic and social changes, mutualism in human-vulture relations has virtually disappeared worldwide. Here, we describe the mutualistic relationship between humans and the globally threatened Egyptian vulture in Socotra, Yemen. By analyzing both the spatial distribution of vultures and the amount of human byproducts they consume, we show that human activities enable the maintenance of the densest population of this rare scavenger, whereas vultures provide a key regulating service by disposing of up to 22.4% of the organic waste annually produced in towns. Globalization is impacting the archipelago, and therefore policies that better integrate societal needs and biodiversity conservation are urgently needed. We propose a win-win solution that relies on the restructuring of the mutualism, shifting from regulating services toward cultural services. Our study highlights the necessity of reconciling trade-offs between biodiversity conservation and economic development in a framework of global change affecting Middle Eastern countries.