Restricted breeding habitat of the Critically Endangered White-winged Flufftail in Ethiopia and its conservation implications
The White-winged Flufftail Sarothrura ayresi is considered the most threatened rallid species in Africa and has significant data deficiencies related to population dynamics, ecology and conservation priorities. The Ethiopian Highlands have until recently, been the only known breeding area for this species globally and are being significantly transformed as a result of expanding agricultural activities. Our study aimed to use in situ data collection and spatially explicit modelling, supported with remote sensing, to produce the first quantified estimate of breeding habitat availability and population size for this species in the Ethiopian Highlands. Our results confirm that a significant proportion (c. 95%) of the three wetland catchments known to support the species have been transformed and are no longer suitable. We estimate that given the remaining habitat (c. 232 ha) and recorded nest density (0.24 nests ha−1), the three catchments could support a potential breeding population of 55 pairs. Of the three catchments, Upper Berga was highlighted as a conservation priority for securing the largest intact sections of suitable breeding habitat. The accumulative impact of a small and declining population size, restricted and localised geographic range and a high rate of habitat loss, all contribute to White-winged Flufftail being associated with a very high extinction risk.
Keywords: habitat availability, habitat loss, nest selectivity, rallid, wetland