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Keywords:

  • habitat selection;
  • home range;
  • houbara bustard;
  • Saudi Arabia

Abstract

In light of widespread declines of houbara bustard Chlamydotis macqueenii populations across its extant range, captive breeding has emerged as a viable option for regenerating viable populations of houbaras in addition to limiting hunting pressure, habitat management and amelioration of predation pressure. Although reintroductions of captive-bred houbaras have been carried out in many regions in recent years, information on differences in ranging behavior and habitat selection between captive-bred and wild-born houbaras is lacking. In this study, we utilized radiotelemetry data spanning 13 years to assess differences in home range use and habitat selection by houbara bustards in the Mahazat as-Sayd reserve in Saudi Arabia. The mean (±standard error of the estimate) annual home range size, estimated using the Kernel density method, was 307.76 ± 15.91 km2, and did not differ significantly between genders. Annual home ranges of wild-born houbaras were however larger than those of their captive-born counterparts (wild-born: 423.77 ± 62.66 km2, captive-bred: 299.31 ± 16.39 km2). Rainy season home ranges were the largest (279.29 ± 27.75 km2) followed by winter home ranges (245.79 ± 19.19 km2) and summer home ranges (110.51 ± 8.91 km2) indicating larger-scale movements of houbaras when forage was available. Seasonal home ranges did not differ significantly between wild-born or captive-bred houbaras. Analysis of habitat selection patterns using the distance-based method revealed consistent patterns of habitat preferences across years and seasons and between genders, ages and whether the bird was captive-bred or wild-born. Results indicate that scrub forms the most preferred habitat for houbaras, and should be conserved for the population welfare of the houbara in Saudi Arabia.