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How robust are Palearctic migrants to habitat loss and degradation in the Sahel?

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The Sahel region of West Africa is an important wintering ground for Palearctic migrants. It is, however, undergoing significant anthropogenic degradation that is likely to reduce its value in this regard. Despite there being evidence that the populations of several Palearctic species may be determined by conditions on their Sahelian wintering grounds, there are almost no baseline data on their habitat use there and so the effects that habitat change might have on their future density and distribution cannot be determined. This study measured which habitat variables were associated with the presence of Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis, Lesser Whitethroat S. curruca and Subalpine Warbler S. cantillans by carrying out point counts and habitat measurements at 1861 points at 16 sites in northern Nigeria during the winters of 2001 and 2002. Common Whitethroats were most common at intermediate tree heights and densities of Salvadora persica (with this effect strongest in the pre-migratory period), and increased as Balanites aegyptiaca density increased initially, although this effect levelled off at higher Balanites densities. Subalpine Warblers were most common at intermediate tree heights and Balanites densities, increased as Acacia and Salvadora density increased, decreased with tree density and were least common at intermediate shrub densities. Lesser Whitethroats were most common at intermediate tree heights, Acacia and Salvadora densities, increased with Balanites density, and decreased with tree density and diversity. The shallow slopes of the significant relationships found between Palearctic warbler species and habitat parameters suggest that the group may be robust to habitat degradation, with densities remaining relatively constant across a wide range of habitat types. Common Whitethroats, in particular, appear to be able to survive in extremely degraded habitats, yet may be vulnerable to the disappearance of Salvadora, the fruit of which may allow pre-migratory fattening.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Bute Medical Building, School of Biology, University of St. Andrews, Fife KY16 9TS, UK

Publication date: 2006-10-01

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