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01.09.2012 | Original Paper | Ausgabe 10/2012

Biodiversity and Conservation 10/2012

Distribution and individual condition reveal a hierarchy of habitat suitability for an area-sensitive passerine

Zeitschrift:
Biodiversity and Conservation > Ausgabe 10/2012
Autoren:
Martine Maron, William Goulding, Rebecca D. Ellis, Farah-Shafawati Mohd-Taib

Abstract

The identification of environmental factors linked to increased risk of local extinction often relies on inference from patterns of distribution. Yet for declining populations, the assumption of population equilibrium that underlies species distribution models is violated. Measures such as individual condition can provide a more direct indication of extinction risk, and can start to be detected before declines commence. We compared distribution-based and condition-based approaches to identifying factors affecting habitat suitability for an area-sensitive passerine, the eastern yellow robin Eopsaltria australis, in eastern Australia. We compared patterns of individual condition between robins and several common, more mobile species (Meliphagid honeyeaters and yellow thornbills Acanthiza nana). Robin presence was not affected by landscape context, but robins avoided sites with a more grassy ground layer. However, robins inhabiting landscapes with less remnant woodland had higher ratios of heterophils to lymphocytes in peripheral blood, indicating higher long-term stress. No clear spatial patterns of condition were detected for the more mobile species. Our findings suggest a hierarchical model of habitat suitability, whereby robins avoid grassy sites, but where they do occur are in poorest condition when inhabiting less-vegetated landscapes. We predict greater rates of local extinction of robins from such landscapes. The use of indicators of individual condition, in addition to distribution data, can unveil otherwise cryptic factors as important influences on habitat quality. As habitat occupancy does not always reflect habitat quality, exploring patterns in condition indices can complement species distribution modelling, potentially revealing threats to persistence before population declines have commenced.

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