African Zoology

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Factors affecting the breeding success of the African Black Oystercatcher (Haematopus moquini): a perspective on protection and food availability

Douglas Loewenthal, Dane M. Paijmans, Philip A.R. Hockey


Breeding success (fledglings pair−1 y−1) of the Red-listed African Black Oystercatcher (Haematopus moquini) is highly variable, both spatially and temporally. Despite a diversity of natural factors causing this variability, there is evidence that two anthropogenic factors, i.e. disturbance and an introduced mussel (Mytilus galloprovincialis), are having an impact on the local breeding success of this species. Using a data set comprising 87 site-years of nest-monitoring data across most of the species’ breeding range, we analysed the extent and causes of variability in breeding success. Breeding success differed across three population categories defined by varying levels of human disturbance: island populations, protected mainland populations, and unprotected mainland populations. Differences in breeding success between island populations and protected mainland populations were likely due to differing exposure to predators; however, differences between protected and unprotected mainland populations were unlikely caused by this as both experience equivalent predation levels (although from different predators). Protection only improved the breeding success of oystercatchers in very high-quality habitats (with a high biomass of alien mussels), and where populations were ‘released’ from high levels of human disturbance. In unprotected mainland areas, human activity impacted on the breeding success of local populations primarily through predation of small chicks by uncontrolled dogs, and by rising tides drowning chicks that were hiding from human disturbance. The findings of this study note the potential conservation dilemma resulting from an invasive species improving the conservation status of a Red-listed species, and encourage the implementation of restricted sites in high-quality habitats with high breeding pair densities.

Keywords: breeding ecology, fledging success, hatching success, human impacts, predation
AJOL African Journals Online