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Land use patterns within Wattled Crane (Bugeranus carunculatus) home ranges in an agricultural landscape in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

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There The Wattled Crane Bugeranus carunculatus is one of the top five most threatened bird species in South Africa, with the main threat being the loss of undisturbed breeding habitat. A basic understanding of this species' use of its environment is needed to implement conservation action. This quantitative study focused on determining the home range size of active breeding pairs in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands of South Africa, and assessing the land use composition of these home ranges. Wattled Cranes were found to have an average home range size of 16.64km2, consisting mostly of open natural grassland (mean of 75.5% of the overall home range of pairs). Other significant land use contributions to the home ranges were temporary irrigated and dryland cultivated agriculture. The core breeding area (wetland) of the home range constituted only 2.3% of the overall home range size, consisting of similar proportions of both wetland (48.9%) and grassland (51.8%) habitat. This indicates the dependence of Wattled Cranes on specific wetland habitats, surrounded by natural grassland. Wattled Cranes show home range sizes larger than other similar-sized crane species, suggesting that this may be as a result of their large body size and their occupation of highly transformed and fragmented habitats in an agricultural landscape. However, the occurrence of transformed land use types in home ranges suggests that breeding pairs tolerate some degree of disturbance within their home ranges. The home ranges do not appear to be currently restricted by surrounding land use types, indicating that factors other than habitat loss may be contributing to breeding site losses. The study has therefore indicated the need for closer working relationships between conservationists and agricultural communities to promote the conservation of valuable natural grasslands surrounding wetlands.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2006

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