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Captive breeding cannot sustain migratory Asian houbara Chlamydotis macqueenii without hunting controls


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To evaluate the potential contribution of captive breeding to the conservation of exploited migratory Asian houbara Chlamydotis macqueenii, we estimated release numbers required to stabilise a population in a hunting concession (14,300 km 2), under scenarios of local licensed hunting and flyway-scale protection. We developed a population model, initially 2350 adult females, re-sampling parameters measured through fieldwork and satellite telemetry, over 1000 iterations. With current flyway-scale unregulated harvest, and without any licensed hunting in the concession, populations declined at 9.4% year −1 (95% CI: −18.9 to 0% year −1); in this scenario a precautionary approach (85% probability λ ≥ 1.0) to population stabilisation required releasing 3100 captive-bred females year −1 (131% of initial wild numbers). A precautionary approach to sustainable hunting of 100 females year −1 required releasing 3600 females year −1 (153% of initial wild numbers); but if interventions reduced flyway-scale hunting/trapping mortality by 60% or 80%, sustaining this quota required releasing 900 or 400 females year −1 , 38% and 17% of initial wild numbers, respectively. Parameter uncertainty increased precautionary numbers for release, but even with reduced precaution (50% probability λ ≥ 1.0), sustainable hunting of 100 females year −1 required annual releases of 2200 females (94% wild) without other measures, but 300 (13%) or no (0%) females under scenarios of a 60% or 80% reduction in flyway-scale hunting/trapping. Captive breeding cannot alone sustain migrant populations of wild C. macqueenii because it risks replacement and domestication. Trade and exploitation must be restricted to avoid either extinction or domestication. For exploited populations, supplementation by captive breeding should be used with caution.
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Captive breeding cannot sustain migratory Asian houbara Chlamydotis
macqueenii without hunting controls
P.M. Dolman
, N.J. Collar
, R.J. Burnside
School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK
BirdLife International, Pembroke Street, Cambridge CB2 3QZ, UK
School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK
Arab falconry
Central Asian flyway
Population reinforcement
Population supplementation
Sustainable exploitation
Sustainable hunting
To evaluate the potential contribution of captive breeding to the conservation of exploited migratory Asian
houbara Chlamydotis macqueenii, we estimated release numbers required to stabilise a population in a hunting
concession (14,300 km
), under scenarios of local licensed hunting and flyway-scale protection. We developed a
population model, initially 2350 adult females, re-sampling parameters measured through fieldwork and sa-
tellite telemetry, over 1000 iterations. With current flyway-scale unregulated harvest, and without any licensed
hunting in the concession, populations declined at 9.4% year
(95% CI: −18.9 to 0% year
); in this scenario a
precautionary approach (85% probability λ≥ 1.0) to population stabilisation required releasing 3100 captive-
bred females year
(131% of initial wild numbers). A precautionary approach to sustainable hunting of
100 females year
required releasing 3600 females year
(153% of initial wild numbers); but if interventions
reduced flyway-scale hunting/trapping mortality by 60% or 80%, sustaining this quota required releasing 900 or
400 females year
, 38% and 17% of initial wild numbers, respectively. Parameter uncertainty increased pre-
cautionary numbers for release, but even with reduced precaution (50% probability λ≥ 1.0), sustainable
hunting of 100 females year
required annual releases of 2200 females (94% wild) without other measures, but
300 (13%) or no (0%) females under scenarios of a 60% or 80% reduction in flyway-scale hunting/trapping.
Captive breeding cannot alone sustain migrant populations of wild C. macqueenii because it risks replacement
and domestication. Trade and exploitation must be restricted to avoid either extinction or domestication. For
exploited populations, supplementation by captive breeding should be used with caution.
1. Introduction
Captive breeding is increasingly used to re-establish or reinforce
species' populations, but its effectiveness needs rigorous assessment
(Converse et al., 2013a;IUCN/SSC, 2013;Taylor et al., 2017). In-
escapable behavioural and genetic risks (Frankham, 2008;Snyder et al.,
1996) become acute where large-scale releases reinforce exploited wild
populations (Laikre et al., 2010). An understanding is therefore essen-
tial of the levels of release, relative to wild numbers, needed to render
harvest sustainable (Burnside et al., 2016).
Despite best practices to minimise loss of genetic diversity
(Frankham, 2008;Williams and Hoffman, 2009), long-term ex situ re-
gimes inevitably select across multiple traits (Snyder et al., 1996).
Traits can diverge rapidly (Christie et al., 2016) affecting fecundity and
linked traits (Bagliacca et al., 2004;Chargé et al., 2014;Lacy et al.,
2013), immune-genetics (Worley et al., 2010), digestive morphology
(Moore and Battley, 2006), temperament (Robertson et al., 2017), and
intrinsic and learnt behaviours including anti-predator responses
(Mathews et al., 2005;McPhee, 2004;Rantanen et al., 2010). Despite
higher mortality and lower productivity in captive-bred individuals,
post-release selection may not purge maladaptive traits, which can in-
trogress into wild populations (Ford, 2002;Sanchez-Donoso et al.,
2014;Söderquist et al., 2017), and wild-born descendants of captive-
bred parents may exhibit substantially lower fitness than those of wild
parents (Araki et al., 2009).
The primary cause of the Asian houbara Chlamydotis macqueenii
Gray being listed as globally threatened (IUCN status Vulnerable) is
hunting, which occurs across the semi-arid desert flyway linking China
and Central Asia to wintering grounds in Iran and Pakistan, and in-
volves Arab falconers and local communities (often using firearms)
compounded by live-trapping for falcon-training (BirdLife
International, 2018). Asian houbara has suffered population losses and
Received 4 June 2018; Received in revised form 14 September 2018; Accepted 1 October 2018
Corresponding author.
E-mail addresses: (P.M. Dolman), (N.J. Collar), (R.J. Burnside).
Biological Conservation xxx (xxxx) xxx–xxx
0006-3207/ Crown Copyright © 2018 Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license
Please cite this article as: Dolman, P.M., Biological Conservation,
Table 1
Parameters of migratory Asian houbara Chlamydotis macqueenii population model, showing sample sizes. Breeding components (probability of nesting, clutch size,
nest success, hatching probability, chick survival to fledging) were measured using nest monitoring, and satellite and UHF tracking of adult females with broods.
Subsequent survival was measured using satellite telemetry. Distributions of clutch size and first-egg date were defined by mean and SD; other parameters by the
mean and SE.
Demographic parameter (units) N, details of replication Parameter estimate
Probability of breeding (starting incubation)
after spring return
52 returns of 23 satellite-tagged adult females to the
breeding grounds (2012–2017); mean estimated from
binomial GLM treating arrivals as independent events:
outcome 0/1, did-not-breed, bred.
0.981 ± 0.019 SE
First-egg date of first nesting attempt (Jday) 51 first-egg dates from 23 satellite-tagged adult females
returning to the breeding grounds (2012–2017); mean and
variance sampled across individuals and years.
92.4 Jday ± 6.8 SD
Clutch size in first nesting attempt (number
of eggs)
41 known first clutches (23 individuals) 2012–2017, from
Koshkin et al. (2016a) supplemented by this study.
3.32 eggs ± 0.65 SD
Clutch size reduction from first to second
38 re-nesting events (25 individuals) 2013–2017. − 0.56 eggs ± 0.15 SE (median = −1)
Date-dependent daily nest survival
probability, clutch.dsr
249 nests monitored over 3025 exposure-days over 6 years
(2012–2017); clutch.dsr
related to Jday; for details see Fig.
A.1 and Table A.1.
= 1 − inverse logit[5.604642 (SE 0.89) − 0.08789 (SE
0.039726) (Jday − 68) + 0.000836 (SE 0.000424) (Jday − 68)
Mean nest success (23 days incubation) = 52.3% ± 3.6% SE
Hatching probability egg
(accounting for
partial predation, infertile eggs and
embryo death)
339 eggs laid in 110 successful nests (2012–2017) hatched
294 chicks; hatching probability estimated in a known-fate
binomial trials Generalised Linear Model (GLM).
0.855 ± 0.019 SE
Date-dependent re-nesting probability,
Outcome following 99 nest failures (with known failure
day) of 36 satellite-tagged females where it was known
whether subsequent incubation was initiated (65 re-
nesting events).
= Inverse logit[43.5389 (SE 9.43) − 4.0366 (SE
0.88) √day of failure]
Mean = 0.657 ± 0.048 SE
Re-nesting interval (days) 65 paired nest failure and re-nesting events of satellite-
tagged females, with both dates known.
8.57 days ± 0.30 SE
Chick survival probability from hatching to
fledging (35 days), S
40 broods (initially comprising 104 hatched chicks) from
24 satellite-tagged females that successfully hatched one
or more clutches during 2013–2017; broods relocated at
34–38 days.
0.500 ± 0.049 SE
Wild juvenile survival probability from
fledging to 01 October (mean 116 days),
37 satellite-tracked juveniles fitted (2013–2017) at
fledging (35 days) monitored to October. Survival from
fledging to October, S
, was estimated as:
fd (days)
where juv.dsr
, is fledging-date-
specific daily survival probability and days the brood-
specific number of exposure days from fledging to 01
October; details in Fig. A.3 and Tables A.3, A.4.
= (1 − inverse logit[−19.59017 (SE 5.298) + 0.08341 (SE
0.031) fd])
Mean = 0.9965 ± 0.0012 SE
= 0.7113 ± 0.0766 SE
Wild first-winter survival probability from 01
October to 31 March (183 days),
excluding hunting in the concession,
27 juveniles satellite-tracked (2013–2017) beyond
0.3704 ± 0.0929 SE
Wild adult summer (01 April to 01 October)
survival probability, S
58 satellite-tracked wild adults (15 adult males, 35 adult
females, plus 8 adults originally caught as juveniles)
monitored for 135 over-summer periods.
0.9037 ± 0.0254 SE
Wild adult winter (01 October to 31 March)
survival probability, S
52 satellite-tracked adults (both sexes) monitored for 123
over-winter periods.
0.8926 ± 0.0282 SE
Captive-bred survival probability from
release to 01 October, S
Total of 75 captive-bred released individuals monitored by
satellite transmitters, 65 from Burnside et al. (2016) plus
10 released April 2015.
0.560 ± 0.057 SE
Captive-bred released, first-winter survival
probability from 01 October to 31 March,
42 captive-bred released individuals, alive at October,
monitored by satellite transmitters, 38 from Burnside et al.
(2016) plus 4 released April 2015.
0.231 ± 0.068 SE
Proportion of winter mortality attributed to
hunting/trapping (excluding licensed
hunting in the concession)
13 wild adult winter, 17 wild first-winter, 30 captive-bred
first-winter and 13 wild adult summer mortalities,
respectively, from (Burnside et al., in press).
0.538 ± 0.138 SE; 0.529 ± 0.121 SE; 0.233 ± 0.078 SE;
0.231 ± 0.117 SE, respectively
P.M. Dolman et al. Biological Conservation xxx (xxxx) xxx–xxx
range contraction across its southern resident range in the Middle East,
Arabia and Pakistan, as well as substantial declines in its migratory
Central Asian populations (Tourenq et al., 2004). To date, the main
conservation response has been supplementation by large-scale releases
of captive-bred birds (Burnside et al., 2016;IFHC, 2016). In the closely
related African houbara C. undulata, however, selection in captivity has
affected a range of physiological, reproductive and behavioural traits
(Chargé et al., 2014), with unknown or unreported consequences.
Captive-bred C. macqueenii released in Uzbekistan migrated shorter
distances than wild counterparts (Burnside et al., 2017), but whether
selection for docility, changes to immune-genetics and loss of learnt
behaviours reduce fitness in the wild is unknown. Crucially, the release
levels required to stabilise residual exploited populations remain un-
Using a population model parameterised by extensive fieldwork and
satellite telemetry, we estimate the current trajectory, and the potential
for supplementation to stabilise it, in a population of migratory C.
macqueenii that is targeted for small-scale harvest within a large
hunting concession but is also exposed to exploitation elsewhere along
its flyway. We assess whether the wild population possesses a har-
vestable surplus or, conversely, needs captive-bred supplementation or
other mitigations within the flyway to stabilise it. We then calculate the
additional releases required to offset licensed hunting, first under cur-
rent conditions, then under management scenarios that limit hunting
and trapping on the flyway and wintering grounds.
2. Materials and methods
2.1. Study area and population
We studied a migratory Asian houbara population in 14,300 km
the southern Kyzylkum Desert, Bukhara province, Uzbekistan
(39.34–40.56°N 62.21–65.20°E). The area supports c. 0.14 male hou-
bara km
(Koshkin et al., 2016b) and is managed as a hunting con-
cession, licensed by the State Committee for Nature Conservation. A
captive-breeding facility, founded with locally sourced birds, supports
annual releases (mean 364 year
during 2011–2017). Limited hunting
(with falcons) occurs in October when, although released birds are still
present, some adults have already left the area, with numbers supple-
mented by migratory individuals from other breeding populations, in-
cluding Kazakhstan and China (Combreau et al., 2011). Thus, while our
modelling assumes a closed population, captive-bred individuals re-
leased to compensate for licensed harvest within a hunting concession
may bolster local numbers but not offset the depletion of populations
breeding elsewhere in the flyway.
2.2. Parameterisation of adult female re-nesting model
Breeding productivity, F, was estimated from an individual-based
re-nesting model (following Dolman et al., 2015) coded in R. Propensity
to nest and first clutch dates were determined from returning adult
satellite-tagged females (2013–2017). Clutch size, nest outcomes and
hatching rates were measured from wild nests (2012–2017) monitored
using protocols in Koshkin et al. (2016a). Incubating females were
confirmed as wild at 74% of nests, and since few remaining nesters
were likely to have been captive-bred (95% probability ≤5 nests: Ap-
pendix A) the likelihood of confounding effects was considered negli-
gible. Nests were treated as independent observations since nest pre-
dation is spatially unpredictable (Koshkin et al., 2016a) and most were
from different individuals. Nest success was date-dependent, declining
mid-season before partially recovering (Appendix A and Fig. A.1) in
response to the phenology of a key nest predator (Koshkin et al.,
2016a). Following nest failure, date-dependent re-nesting probability,
re-nesting interval and clutch size were determined from satellite-
tagged females (Appendix A and Fig. A.2; sample sizes in Table 1). As
negative effects on reproduction are largely associated with neck collars
(Bodey et al., 2017), breeding parameters derived using backpack-
mounted telemetry were not adjusted.
2.3. Age-specific survival
Chick survival (over 35 days) to fledging, S
, was measured for
replicate broods of satellite-tracked adult females (some tracked over
multiple years: Table 1) that had hatched at least one egg. Early long-
distance flights indicated complete brood loss; other females were re-
located 34–38 days post-hatch and the numbers of surviving chicks
were recorded (details in Appendix A). S
was estimated using a
binomial Generalised Linear Model (GLM) and was independent of
hatching date (Table A.2). Juvenile survival from fledging to October,
, was examined by satellite telemetry of individuals captured at
34–38 days (details in Appendix A). The fledging-date-specific daily
survival rate was estimated using a binomial trials GLM (which con-
siders the number of repeated trials, here exposure days to October,
leading to the outcome of each sample) and declined for later broods,
such that earlier-fledged juveniles were more likely to survive to Oc-
tober (Fig. A.3 and Tables A.3, A.4).
A binomial GLM was used to estimate subsequent first-winter sur-
vival of wild satellite-tagged juveniles that survived to October.
Survival of satellite-tagged wild adults (following protocols in Burnside
et al., 2017) considered two periods: winter (including outward and
return migration), and summer (including settlement, breeding, post-
breeding dispersal and moult). Survival of captive-bred houbara to 01
October was similar for yearlings released in spring (March–May) and
young-of-the-year released in August (Burnside et al., 2016). To ex-
amine underlying demography, when analysing survival probabilities
individuals killed by licensed hunting within the concession were coded
as surviving up to that date; hunting quotas were then applied in po-
pulation management scenarios (see below).
Transmitters may reduce avian survival, particularly when back-
pack-mounted on species with flapping flight, using tags that exceed 1%
of body mass, although mean effect size is small (Bodey et al., 2017). As
we cannot exclude satellite-tag effects on houbara survival, we adjusted
all transmitter-derived survival parameters (captive-bred released, wild
juvenile from fledging to October, first winter, adult summer and adult
winter) by the mean effect size on avian survival from meta-analysis
(Bodey et al., 2017). Mean effect sizes reported as the Fisher-trans-
formed correlation coefficient (Zr = −0.064) were converted to Co-
hen's d, a measure of the difference between means (d= −0.128),
following Nakagawa and Cuthill (2007). All mean survival parameters
were increased by this proportion of the parameter's standard error
(SE), as an estimate of the pooled SD of the original and adjusted
2.4. Population model
Age-specific female cohorts were modelled, coded in R, assuming:
equal sex ratio at hatching (Dolman et al., 2015), breeding un-
constrained by male availability, and maximum age 20 years (Preston
et al., 2015). Table 1 summarises demographic parameters. The initial
distribution of age-classes was determined from a Leslie matrix model
using mean demographic parameters, which stabilised at 35 years. Po-
pulation trajectories over 20 generations were examined using a po-
pulation model, applied to an initial population of 2350 adult females,
estimated from spring male point count data (Appendix B). At each of
1000 iterations, each demographic parameter was randomly sampled:
for survival rates from a beta distribution bound by limits of 0 and 1,
defined by the mean and its SE; for clutch size and incubation start-date
from a normal distribution defined by the mean and observed standard
deviation (SD); and for other parameters from a normal distribution
defined by the mean and SE. Parameter estimates pooled data across
individuals and years, and iteration-specific resampling combined both
inter-annual variability and empirical sampling error. Individual
P.M. Dolman et al. Biological Conservation xxx (xxxx) xxx–xxx
probabilistic events (probability of breeding, daily nest survival during
incubation, egg hatching probability, date-dependent re-nesting prob-
ability after clutch loss, and individual chick, juvenile and adult sur-
vival) were assessed as random binomial trials against the iteration-
specific parameter threshold.
As few one-year-old females attempt to breed (Azar et al., 2018;
Maloney, 2003), we assumed first breeding at two years. We further
assumed that subsequent breeding performance was independent of
age; however, as breeding propensity and success increase up to three
years (Bacon et al., 2017;Maloney, 2003) the contribution of second-
year birds to productivity was slightly over-estimated. Reproductive
senescence was not incorporated. For captive-bred C. undulata, re-
productive senescence is negligible, with only subtle reductions in chick
hatching by 18 years (Preston et al., 2015) and, for released birds, in
clutch size and egg volume after eight years (Bacon et al., 2017). Fur-
thermore, our monitoring of wild nests and broods sampled perfor-
mance across the current female age structure.
For computational efficiency, a single matrix of potential breeding
outcomes was populated by running the re-nesting model for 10,000
independent female breeding seasons. Within the re-nesting model,
individual probability of breeding was assessed and, if breeding, the
first-egg date of the first nesting attempt was determined by randomly
sampling the observed distribution (Table 1). Initial clutch size was
sampled from the distribution of known first attempts (rounded to an
integer, bounded 1–5), incremented by 1.5 days for each additional egg
(Saint Jalme and van Heezik, 1996) to determine incubation start-date.
As the primary cause of nest failure is predation (Koshkin et al., 2016a),
which is considered spatially unpredictable, nest success was sampled
independently for each attempt (rather than individual). A vector of
date-specific daily nest survival probabilities (clutch.dsr
) and their SE
was generated from a binomial trials model of monitored nests. For
each nesting attempt, the beta distribution of the first day's clutch.dsr
was sampled to determine a nest-attempt-specific adjustment that was
applied (as a Z score relative to the date-dependent SE) to each sub-
sequent clutch.dsr
that formed the basis of iterative daily binomial
trials, until the clutch failed or hatched. Females hatching eggs were
assumed not to re-nest during that season. Whether a female re-nested
after failure was determined by a binomial trial performed on the date-
dependent re-nesting probability, sampling the re-nesting interval to
determine the subsequent first-egg date, sampling the distribution of
known second clutches to determine the re-nesting clutch size, and then
modelling success as above. The re-nesting model yielded a matrix of
outcomes for each female-season.
The population model randomly sampled the matrix of nesting
outcomes for each breeding-age female in each breeding season. For
each successful nest, the matrix provided clutch size and hatching date;
the iteration-specific hatching probability was then applied (by bino-
mial trial for each egg) to determine chick numbers. Chick survival to
fledging was tested by an individual binomial trial, against the itera-
tion-specific value of S
. For each juvenile, survival from fledging to
October was determined by an iteration-specific adjustment (by Z
score) of the relevant fledge-date-dependent juv.dsr
, with daily bino-
mial trials repeated according to the number of exposure days to 01
Following breeding, adult summer survival was tested by individual
binomial trials against the iteration-dependent probability, together
with surviving juveniles providing total numbers at the October hunt.
Individual over-winter survival to spring (31 March) was tested against
the iteration-specific, age-dependent probability and survivors then
incremented in age, providing spring breeding numbers.
2.5. Demography
Population trajectories were considered in terms of mean popula-
tion growth rate (λ, the linear regression of log population size across
years 1–20). The value of each demographic parameter (breeding
productivity, first-winter, adult winter and adult summer survival) at
which λ= 1 (holding other parameters at their mean) was predicted
from a series of GLMs (with normal error) which related iteration-
specific λto the iteration-specific parameter value.
2.6. Population management/mitigation scenarios
To examine the magnitude of releases required to stabilise the
exploited population within the hunting concession, we considered
scenarios of releasing between 0 and 4000 captive-bred female hou-
bara year
, under different levels of regulated hunting, ranging from 0
to 200 females year
. For captive-bred C. undulata, susceptibility to
hunting did not vary between sexes or with time since release
(Hardouin et al., 2015). We treated wild adult, wild juvenile and cap-
tive-bred released females as equally susceptible to hunting, with their
mortality dependent on the ratio of the hunting quota to total female
numbers alive in October. Subsequent individual winter survival was
tested by a binomial trial against the iteration-specific, cohort-specific
survival probabilities and survivors incremented in age next spring. We
assumed (perhaps generously: see Discussion) that, after their first year,
captive-bred released birds performed as wild birds.
For each release and hunting scenario, we examined release num-
bers required to stabilise the population (λ≥ 1). We examined two
scenarios: an ‘average approach’ based on the mean λ, thus giving a
50% probability of stability or increase, and a more rigorous ‘precau-
tionary approach’ based on the lower 15% confidence interval of the
mean λ(85% probability λ≥ 1).
Despite extensive ecological study (Koshkin et al., 2016a;Koshkin
et al., 2016b;Koshkin et al., 2014), no opportunity exists to enhance in
situ breeding productivity to offset mortality. We reject predator con-
trol across breeding landscapes because: (1) the key predator, Varanus
griseus, is vulnerable and protected (Anon, 2009); (2) poison-bait is
indiscriminate; (3) disrupting predator/prey dynamics risks unforeseen
consequences; (4) predator reduction may affect selection on wild
houbara traits (e.g. Guilherme et al., 2018); and (5) no evidence exists
that anthropogenic factors inflate predator numbers in areas remote
from agriculture or settlements.
Actions to limit illegal trapping and sustainably regulate hunting
have long been advocated as conservation measures (CMS, 2005;
Combreau et al., 2005) and may reduce dependence on captive-bred
supplementation. We therefore examined the demographic con-
sequences of scenarios that reduced anthropogenic mortality. The
proportion of mortality in each cohort (wild adults in summer, wild
adults in winter, wild juvenile first-winter and captive-bred birds first-
winter) attributable to hunting/trapping, was estimated from PTT lo-
cation and engineering data (Burnside et al., in press). A similar pro-
portion of wild adult winter and wild first-winter mortalities was at-
tributed to hunting/trapping, at 53% (Table 1), less than an earlier
estimate of 74% of over-winter mortality attributable to hunting for
adult-sized migrant Asian houbara (Combreau et al., 2001). Hunting/
trapping pressure may have decreased, or alternatively more hunters or
trappers may now simply remove and discard rather than destroy a
PTT, in which case anthropogenic mortality will be underestimated. We
therefore consider our estimates of the proportion of total winter
mortality attributed to hunting/trapping, and thus the extent to which
limiting this offers a reduction in captive-bred numbers needed for re-
lease, as conservative. Fewer (23%) captive-bred first-winter mor-
talities were attributed to hunting/trapping (Burnside et al., in press).
Of wild adult summer mortalities, 23% were attributed to hunting/
trapping (Burnside et al., in press). Using this information, we in-
crementally reduced hunting/trapping mortality according to:
= +S S mort red P S. . ( )·(1 )
j 2 j 1 j 1 j 1. . . .
where S
and S
are the original and improved winter or summer
survival probabilities of cohort j, the proportionate reduction
in hunting/trapping (by 0.1 increments) and P
the proportion of
P.M. Dolman et al. Biological Conservation xxx (xxxx) xxx–xxx
mortality attributable to hunting/trapping.
3. Results
3.1. Demographic performance
3.1.1. Productivity
Nesting propensity was high, and nest success relatively high (52%
overall), with most eggs in successful nests hatching (Table 1). Mean
annual productivity, estimated from the re-nesting model for a starting
population of 2056 breeding-age (≥2 years) females and applying date-
independent chick mortality and date-dependent juvenile mortality,
was 0.334 ± 0.037 SD female recruits in October per breeding-age
female (Table A.5).
3.1.2. First-winter and adult survival
The mean number of wild female yearling recruits returning the
following year was 0.132 ± 0.016 SD (breeding-age female)
A.5). First-winter survival of released captive-bred houbara did not
differ (t
= 1.235, P = 0.221) from that of wild first-winter birds
(Table 1). Adult annual survival (excluding licensed hunting within the
concession; estimated for 58 individuals over 132 individual-years
2011–2018) was 0.8030 ± 0.0346 SE, and similar between winter and
summer periods (Table 1).
3.1.3. Population trend
The wild population, examined in the absence of licensed hunting in
the concession or release of captive-bred birds (Fig. 1), was estimated to
be declining at 9.4% year
(mean λ, 0.906, 95% CI 0.811–1.00), with
only 2.7% of population iterations increasing. The trajectory was si-
milar without adjustment of survival parameters to compensate for
potential transmitter effects (mean λ= 0.904, 0.818–0.985 CI; 0.9%
iterations increasing). To achieve population stability (λ= 1.0) re-
quired large increases in demographic parameters: for productivity, to
0.599 (95% CI 0.583–0.616) female recruits in October per breeding-
age female, substantially beyond the upper quartile of current pro-
ductivity (Fig. 2a); for first-winter or adult winter survival, to 0.70
(95% CI 0.69–0.72) and 0.996 (95% CI 0.992–1.0) respectively, again
substantially beyond their current upper quartiles (Fig. 2b, c). Stability
could not be achieved solely through increased summer survival
(to > 1.0) (Fig. 2d).
3.2. Scenarios for population stabilisation and creating a huntable surplus
With no licensed hunting occurring in the concession, stabilising
population trajectories required, on average (50% probability λ≥ 1.0),
annual releases of 1700 females (Fig. 3a), 72% of the initial wild female
numbers. Under this ‘average approach’, compensating for an annual
hunting quota of 100 females within the concession would require
annually releasing 2200 females, approaching (94%) initial wild num-
bers, while a quota of 200 females required annually releasing 2700
females, exceeding (115%) wild numbers. However, a precautionary
approach (85% probability λ≥ 1.0) required annually releasing 3100
females (132%) with no hunting, and 3600 (153%) or > 4000
(> 170%) females for sustainable annual quotas of 100 or 200 females
respectively. Total numbers of houbara hunted or released would, as-
suming an equal sex ratio and no differential hunting susceptibility, be
double these levels.
In scenarios where the hunting/trapping component of winter
mortality was reduced by 30%, a quota of 100 females could, on
average, be sustained by annually releasing 1100 females, half those
required without wider regulation but still 47% relative to wild num-
bers (Fig. 3b); or under a precautionary approach by annually releasing
2200 females (94% wild numbers). If winter hunting/trapping mor-
tality were reduced by 60%, a quota of 100 females could, on average,
be sustained by annually releasing 500 females (21%), while a pre-
cautionary approach required annually releasing 1200 females (33% of
those required without wider regulation but still 51% of wild numbers).
Concerted action to reduce winter hunting/trapping mortality by 80%
would allow sustainable hunting of 100 females by annually releasing
only 200 (on average) or 700 (precautionary) females, 9% and 30% of
initial wild numbers respectively.
If both summer and winter hunting/trapping mortality were re-
duced similarly by 30%, a quota of 100 females could be sustained by
annually releasing 900 (on average) or 1900 (precautionary) females
(Fig. 3c), 38% and 81% of initial wild numbers respectively. If annual
hunting/trapping mortality were reduced by 60%, a quota of 100 fe-
males could be sustained by annually releasing 300 (on average, 13%)
or 900 (precautionary, 38%) females. However, if annual hunting/
trapping mortality were reduced by 80% a sustainable hunt would re-
quire no (0%) or 400 (17%) females under average and precautionary
scenarios, respectively.
4. Discussion
Population modelling indicated the C. macqueenii population in the
Kyzylkum of Uzbekistan is declining by 9.4% year
(95% CI:
−18.9% year
to 0% year
), despite strong breeding productivity,
due to unsustainable mortality. With no harvestable surplus, population
stabilisation required a reduction in mortality and/or the release of
captive-bred birds; licensed hunting within the concession then re-
quired additional releases. However, if captive breeding and release
was the sole conservation measure, under a precautionary approach
(85% probability of stabilising the population) numbers that must be
released annually exceed the wild population: 132% of initial wild
numbers in the absence of licensed hunting within the concession;
153% or > 170% with a modest hunting quota of 100 or 200 females
respectively (200 or 400 houbara). Unless action to regulate hunting
and limit trapping across the flyway was extremely effective (e.g. re-
ducing annual hunting/trapping mortality by 80%), annual numbers of
captive-bred releases required for population stabilisation remained
substantial relative to wild numbers.
Fig. 1. Demography of Asian houbara Chlamydotis macqueenii populations,
showing the number of females in spring (yearlings plus adults) over 20 years,
and the geometric mean trajectory (continuous line) and SD (dashed lines)
across 500 model iterations (pale lines).
P.M. Dolman et al. Biological Conservation xxx (xxxx) xxx–xxx
4.1. Wild performance
Nesting propensity of satellite-tagged females was high (98%),
while overall nest success (52%) and hatching probability (86%) were
similar to those of wild houbara in China (59% and 84% respectively,
Combreau et al., 2002). Wild chick survival probability to five weeks
(50%) exceeded that of wild chicks in China (39% to eight weeks,
Combreau et al., 2002), and wild juvenile survival was high from
fledging to 01 October (71%). Thus predicted population declines
cannot be attributed to poor productivity, and population stabilisation
would require an unfeasible increase above current levels of recruit-
Wild adult annual mortality (19.7%) was below the 28.3%
(18.6–40.4% CI) for adult-sized houbara (possibly including some first-
winter birds) migrating between China and Pakistan, 1994–2000, when
mortality was 11.2 times higher in winter than the breeding season
(Combreau et al., 2001). Although wild first-winter mortality (63%)
was greater, the proportion attributable to hunting/trapping was si-
milar to that of wild adults. However, in the absence of hunting/
trapping mortality, wild first-winter mortality may be < 45%. Although
houbara remain at risk on migration and wintering grounds in Pakistan,
Afghanistan and Iran, adult summer mortality (including unlicensed
hunting and powerline collisions: Burnside et al., in press;Burnside
et al., 2015) was similar to that in winter. Conservation measures
should therefore address threats of infrastructure and hunting on
breeding grounds as well as the widely recognised threat (CMS, 2005;
Combreau et al., 2005) of unsustainable harvest in wintering areas.
We consider these results robust, although further parameter re-
finement may narrow confidence limits and improve predictions. In two
aspects, our modelling was conservative and thus may have under-es-
timated numbers of releases needed to stabilise populations. First, it
will have slightly over-estimated productivity by not allowing for lower
output of two-year-old females and senescent birds. Second, it assumed
that, after surviving their first winter, captive-bred birds performed as
well as wild adults (see below). Conversely, any transmitter impacts
may over-estimate numbers of releases required. However, we adjusted
survival estimates upward by the mean transmitter effect from recent
meta-analysis (Bodey et al., 2017). Moreover, given that transmitter
Fig. 2. Mean rate of wild Asian houbara Chlamydotis macqueenii population change (λ) across 5000 model iterations, related to (a) productivity: female recruits in
October per breeding-age female; (b) wild first-winter survival; (c) adult over-winter survival and (d) adult over-summer survival. Vertical lines show median (solid
line, x axis value) and inter-quartile range (shaded, dashed lines) of parameters re-sampled across iterations, and the fit (red solid line) and 95% CI (red dashed lines)
of a GLM relating λ to recruitment or survival. The vertical dashed line and x axis value show the parameter value for which λ =1.0 (horizontal dashed line). (For
interpretation of the references to colour in this figure legend, the reader is referred to the web version of this article.)
P.M. Dolman et al. Biological Conservation xxx (xxxx) xxx–xxx
0 (0)
300 (13)
600 (25)
900 (38)
1200 (51)
1500 (64)
1800 (76)
2100 (89)
2400 (102)
2700 (115)
3000 (127)
3300 (140)
3600 (153)
3900 (166)
Hunt quota
Number of captive-bred females released (% of wild population)
0 (0)
300 (13)
600 (25)
900 (38)
1200 (51)
1500 (64)
1800 (76)
2100 (89)
2400 (102)
2700 (115)
3000 (127)
3300 (140)
3600 (153)
3900 (166)
(quota 100 females)
0 (0)
300 (13)
600 (25)
900 (38)
1200 (51)
1500 (64)
1800 (76)
2100 (89)
2400 (102)
2700 (115)
3000 (127)
3300 (140)
3600 (153)
3900 (166)
Summer & Winter
(quota 100 females)
Fig. 3. Mean and 95% CI of population growth rate (λ), across 1000 iterations for each release/hunt scenario, shown in relation to (a) numbers of female captive-bred houbara released year
for different annual hunting
quotas (numbers of females hunted), and (b, c), maintaining an annual quota of 100 females, but with proportionate reductions (0 to 1.0) in (b) adult and first-winter hunting/trapping mortality, and in (c) adult winter,
first-winter and adult summer hunting/trapping mortality. Assuming an equal sex ratio, total numbers released and hunted will be twice the values shown.
P.M. Dolman et al. Biological Conservation xxx (xxxx) xxx–xxx
effects are more detrimental for nesting propensity than survival
(Barron et al., 2010), the high (98%) nesting propensity of returning
satellite-tagged adult females suggests transmitters minimally affected
condition. Indeed, where protocols have been tested and expertly
adapted to bird species, satellite transmitters commonly have minimal
effects (e.g. Ashbrook et al., 2016;Sergio et al., 2015). Nevertheless, a
concern is whether transmitters affected juvenile or first-winter survival
if not properly fitted to allow for growth. Accepting that development,
growth and thus harness adjustments may differ for active wild birds, 4
captive-bred juveniles, fitted with transmitters at c.35 days using
identical protocols to tagged wild juveniles, and kept over winter to the
following spring, showed normal growth and mobility, no lesions and
no signs of musculoskeletal problems.
4.2. Captive-bred released performance
Initial survival of captive-bred houbara from release to October was
higher (56%) than for houbara bred in the UAE and released in Saudi
Arabia, Kazakhstan and Pakistan (to 3 months: 25%, 25%, 29% re-
spectively, IFHC, 2017). Houbara released in Central Asia face chal-
lenges in their first migration, through exposure to hunting and trap-
ping. Overall first-year survival was, unsurprisingly, lower (12.9% from
release to spring return) than that of non-migratory captive-bred hou-
bara released into protected areas in the UAE (48% for their first year,
Azar et al., 2016) and Morocco (44%, IFHC, 2016).
First-winter captive-bred birds were more susceptible to natural
mortality from starvation, disease or predation than wild juveniles
(Burnside et al., in press), potentially indicating poorer fitness in terms
of physiological condition, immunity to pathogens, anti-predator be-
haviours or foraging ability. Our estimates of captive-bred survival
were derived from cohorts reared in earlier years of the facility; sub-
sequent refinement of diet and rearing protocols may improve perfor-
mance. If post-release survival were improved by rearing and pre-re-
lease protocols such as exercise (Rymešová et al., 2013), or predator-
aversion training (Gaudioso et al., 2011;van Heezik et al., 1999),
numbers needed for release could perhaps be reduced.
Uncertainty in long-term demographic performance of released in-
dividuals is common when planning reintroduction or reinforcement
programmes (e.g. Converse et al., 2013b;Dolman et al., 2015). As noted
above, a critical uncertainty in our model concerns the subsequent
demographic performance of surviving captive-bred released birds that
returned to the breeding grounds. We assumed this matched that of
wild birds and, additionally, that their wild-hatched progeny were in-
distinguishable from wild individuals. However, even after reaching
3+ years, annual survival of captive-bred C. undulata (67%) is sub-
stantially below that of wild adults (89%, IFHC, 2016), suggesting
persistent effects of long-established captive-breeding programmes on
fitness. We lack robust data on returning captive-bred C. macqueenii due
to high first-winter mortality rates, but initial data suggest annual
survival (12 individuals, over 20 individual-years, 0.40 ± 0.1096 SE)
may be substantially less than for wild adults (0.8030 ± 0.0346). More
generally, captive-reared gamebirds released to reinforce wild popula-
tions commonly achieve significantly poorer productivity and survival
than wild counterparts (Buner et al., 2011;Hill and Robertson, 1988;
Madden et al., 2018;Rymešová et al., 2013). The conventional response
to this poorer performance is to release larger numbers of birds
(Robertson et al., 2017;Söderquist et al., 2017), the unintended con-
sequences of which we have reviewed in the Introduction.
4.3. Conservation of migratory Asian houbara
For migratory Asian houbara, the sheer scale of captive breeding
and release needed to stabilise exploited populations—approaching or
annually exceeding initial wild numbers—could itself become a desta-
bilising and unsustainable measure, owing to the known and pre-
dictable dangers from various adverse heritable or acquired traits (see
Introduction). Such scaling-up of supplementation would risk replace-
ment and domestication of wild stock rather than conservation re-
inforcement, with unknown population consequences. While our
modelling assumed a closed population, localised compensatory release
of captive-bred individuals may supplement local numbers but will not
offset hunting pressure on other populations during their migratory
stop-over in the hunting concession. Moreover, a flyway-wide pro-
gramme of captive breeding and release, currently under development,
poses even greater risks of wild replacement. Only by substantially
reducing mortality along the flyways can the decline of C. macqueenii be
halted and releases of captive-bred birds moderated to levels at which
the dangers to wild populations are minimised.
Conservation success can, therefore, only be achieved by interested
parties committing jointly to a scientifically informed, strictly observed
and fully integrated system of legal enforcement, quotas, concessions
and supplementations (CMS, 2005) to reverse the current downward
trajectory of the wild population and allow truly sustainable hunting.
Extending the supply of captive-bred birds for falcon training has the
potential to reduce markets for wild-caught houbara (Combreau et al.,
2005), although losses from powerline collisions (Burnside et al., 2015)
may be costly to mitigate. Considerable resources are already invested
by Gulf states in the captive breeding of houbara and in falcons, lo-
gistics for falconry and hunting expeditions, and the social and eco-
nomic support provided to host countries. Given the level of this in-
vestment, the move to a sustainably managed hunting regime should
represent not a threat to the deep tradition of falconry but the only
means of ensuring its long-term survival. Host countries and con-
servation agencies will surely find common cause in helping develop
and implement this now imperative strategy.
5. Conclusions
This study adds to the mounting evidence of potential long-term
risks to wild populations from supplementation and reinforcement
through the release of captive-bred animals. Where the fitness reduc-
tion of captive-bred relative to wild individuals is heritable, as has been
frequently demonstrated (e.g. Araki et al., 2009;Christie et al., 2016),
release of even slightly less-fit individuals may cause long-term reduc-
tion in the size, genetic diversity and viability of wild populations
(Lynch and O'Hely, 2001;Willoughby and Christie, 2018), particularly
where captive-born individuals are released for more than a few years
(Willoughby and Christie, 2018). The use of repeated annual supple-
mentation to reinforce exploited populations over the long term is,
therefore, a high-risk strategy. For hunted populations, a further un-
intended consequence of releasing captive-bred stock is that, instead of
reducing pressure on wild individuals through a dilution effect, per-
ceptions of high abundance and effective mitigation can lead to greater
hunting pressure on wild stock (Casas et al., 2016). Although it is im-
portant to develop strategies to reduce genetic adaptation in captivity
and to increase survival and performance after release, without ade-
quately addressing in situ threats, over-reliance on supplementation
risks domestication and replacement.
Supplementary data to this article can be found online at https://
Declaration of interest
The Ahmed bin Zayed Charitable Foundation funded this work as
part of a wider research collaboration of the Emirates Bird Breeding
Center for Conservation (EBBCC), BirdLife International and University
of East Anglia (UEA), UK. BirdLife sub-contracted UEA to undertake
independent and objective evaluation of strategies using fieldwork and
satellite telemetry; all analyses were conducted independently by UEA,
and other partners had no influence on the magnitude or direction of
findings. BirdLife co-authored the paper; EBBCC was informed of results
and discussed interpretation. The animal research was approved by the
P.M. Dolman et al. Biological Conservation xxx (xxxx) xxx–xxx
UEA Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body (AWERB), which is
governed by UK Government Home Office (2014) guidance on the
operation of the Animals Scientific Procedures Act (ASPA 1986; HMSO:
London) and the European Commission (2010) Directive 2010/63/EU
of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 September 2010 on
the protection of animals used for scientific purposes (Official Journal
of the European Union L276:33-79).
We thank the State Committee for Nature Conservation of the
Republic of Uzbekistan for permission and the Emirates Bird Breeding
Center for Conservation for collaboration and logistical support. We
warmly thank Marta Acácio, Alex Brighten, Elizabeth Grayshon, João
Guilherme, David Hodkinson, Adam Formica, Ryan Irvine, Erasil
Khaitov, Maxim Koshkin, Judit Mateos-Herrero, Christopher Panter,
Philip Saunders, David Showler, Andrew Taylor, Elizabeth Taylor,
Vladimir Terentyev and Jonathan Willans for their contributions to data
collection. We are grateful to Doug Armstrong and two anonymous
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... Between 1994 and 2000, offtake was estimated to be 3 times the annual sustainable yield (Combreau et al. 2001); migratory Asian houbara declined by over 50% in Kazakhstan and China be tween 1998(Tourenq et al. 2005, with further steep declines in parts of Kazakhstan between 2000 and 2009 (Riou et al. 2011). Recent demographic modelling of Asian houbara breeding in Uzbekistan indicates an ongoing decline of over 9% each year (Dolman et al. 2018), with at least 53% of winter mortality attributable to hunting/trapping (Burnside et al. 2018). For African houbara, no comparable quantitative data for anthropogenic mortality or population trends exist, but the contribution of overhunting to population declines, as documented by Goriup (1997) and Azafzaf et al. (2005), was further evident from reports of e.g. ...
... Between 1994 and 2000, offtake was estimated to be 3 times the annual sustainable yield (Combreau et al. 2001); migratory Asian houbara declined by over 50% in Kazakhstan and China be tween 1998(Tourenq et al. 2005, with further steep declines in parts of Kazakhstan between 2000 and 2009 (Riou et al. 2011). Recent demographic modelling of Asian houbara breeding in Uzbekistan indicates an ongoing decline of over 9% each year (Dolman et al. 2018), with at least 53% of winter mortality attributable to hunting/trapping (Burnside et al. 2018). For African houbara, no comparable quantitative data for anthropogenic mortality or population trends exist, but the contribution of overhunting to population declines, as documented by Goriup (1997) and Azafzaf et al. (2005), was further evident from reports of e.g. ...
... To date, although there have been efforts to create protected areas and enforce legal protection, the primary conservation response to counter these de clines has been captive breeding and release programmes ( Fig. 1), which have been rolled out across the ranges of the 2 species (IFHC 2013, Dolman et al. 2018). However, the impact and conservation value of these programmes have received little independent scientific scrutiny. ...
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Translocation of captive-bred individuals to reinforce wild populations may be an important conservation approach for some species, but can be detrimental when employed to boost exploited wild populations, particularly where repeated long-term reinforcement aims to compensate for repeated unregulated offtake. We review evidence that captive breeding alters multiple physiological, life-history and temperamental traits through founder effects, genetic drift and unintended adaption to captivity; degrades learnt behaviours; and compromises biogeography, population structure and viability through introgression. We highlight these risks for the globally threatened African houbara Chlamydotis undulata and Asian houbara C. macqueenii , 2 bustard species hunted throughout much of their ranges and now subject to multiple large-scale captive-breeding programmes and translocations. In eastern Morocco, annual releases of captive-bred African houbara are 2‒3 times higher than original wild numbers, but no investigation of their potentially deleterious effects has, to our knowledge, been published, although most wild populations may now have been replaced by captive-bred domestic stock, which are reportedly not self-sustaining. Despite multiple decades of reinforcement, we are not aware of any analysis of the contribution of captive breeding to African houbara population dynamics, or of the genomic consequences. Asian houbara release programmes may also be promoting rather than preventing declines, and need to contextualise themselves through rigorous analyses of wild population numbers, demographic rates and threats, maintenance of phylogeographic concordance of released with supplemented populations, profiling of traits crucial to survival and the measurement and modelling of the impacts of reinforcement on physiological and behavioural fitness of wild populations.
... In the latter case, it was found that group size at release and food availability in release sites affected survival probability (Azar et al. 2016), although this may not be the case on other life-history traits, such as fecundity parameters in released females (Bacon et al. 2017). Whether resident houbara populations can be sustained by released birds from captive breeding or whether releases can mitigate or compensate for hunting mortality has been assessed Azar et al. 2018;Dolman et al. 2018). Such studies, however, concluded that supportive breeding to reinforce exploited populations over the long term is a high-risk strategy, so long as sourcesink dynamics operate between hunted and non-hunted areas (Hardouin et al. 2015). ...
... However, there is still uncertainty about the balance between the long-term efficiency of such costly (in both logistics and money) programmes, and indirect negative externalities such as a global fitness reduction of captive-bred birds released in the wild that may impact wild individuals. In the case of houbara bustards, several studies have warned about the use of annual supplementation to reinforce hunted populations over the long term Azar et al. 2018;Dolman et al. 2018). ...
Little bustard seasonal movements are complex. Besides the long known fully long-distance migratory populations (i.e. those of western France, Russia, and Central Asia), there are also others fully migratory that perform shorter migrations, such as many from northern Spain, or partially migratory, such as those from central Spain. Moreover, there are other seasonal movements different from winter migration that entail a directional round trip after breeding (summer migration) or a combination of the latter with a winter directional migration from summer sites to wintering sites and return to breeding grounds. Summer movements are frequent in strongly seasonal Mediterranean areas of central and southern Iberia and usually involve trips to the north or to higher altitudes with less severe summer drought. Finally, there are resident populations in southern Iberia and other Mediterranean regions that perform short-distance movements, tracking the availability of food and other resources. Although such a variety of movements has been described only in the Iberian Peninsula, it may have been present in other climatically and geographically diverse regions of the species’ former range. Because little bustards move frequently, they are exposed to threats that they may not find in their breeding grounds (which are often protected and relatively cared-after). Moreover, habitat selection outside the breeding season is not constrained by breeding requirements, and thus the diversity of habitats used by birds is greater, so they can be found in places where they rarely appear in spring, such as the proximity of linear infrastructures or irrigated farmland. However, non-breeding grounds are usually less protected than breeding sites. Threats faced by little bustards out of the breeding areas comprise land-use changes (including urbanization and intensively irrigated crops) and infrastructure development that lead to a strong decrease or full disappearance of large winter concentrations. In addition, powerline collision risk, poaching, or simple disturbance from human frequentation have been found to affect wintering little bustards negatively.
... In the latter case, it was found that group size at release and food availability in release sites affected survival probability (Azar et al. 2016), although this may not be the case on other life-history traits, such as fecundity parameters in released females (Bacon et al. 2017). Whether resident houbara populations can be sustained by released birds from captive breeding or whether releases can mitigate or compensate for hunting mortality has been assessed Azar et al. 2018;Dolman et al. 2018). Such studies, however, concluded that supportive breeding to reinforce exploited populations over the long term is a high-risk strategy, so long as sourcesink dynamics operate between hunted and non-hunted areas (Hardouin et al. 2015). ...
... However, there is still uncertainty about the balance between the long-term efficiency of such costly (in both logistics and money) programmes, and indirect negative externalities such as a global fitness reduction of captive-bred birds released in the wild that may impact wild individuals. In the case of houbara bustards, several studies have warned about the use of annual supplementation to reinforce hunted populations over the long term Azar et al. 2018;Dolman et al. 2018). ...
We summarize what is known about the variation in little bustard (Tetrax tetrax) vital parameters across its distribution range, regarding densities, breeding phenology, nesting and brooding, breeding success and sex ratio, as well as chick and adult survival. Breeding densities are highly variable, but generally higher in non-intensified farmland than in more natural steppes, with intensified farmland exhibiting the lowest values. Where it has been reported, breeding success is generally low, because of high nest losses and low chick survival, associated to farmland intensification. Adult survival is similarly low, mainly because of high human induced mortality factors. The low survival of adult females is particularly worrying and leads to an unbalanced adult sex ratio in most populations. While in some areas this female-biased mortality might be associated with the destruction of nests and females by farming practices, the exact mechanisms can be multifactorial and are not yet precisely understood. Quantitative unbiased demographic information remains scarce everywhere and we urgently need to improve the monitoring of little bustard populations across its range, particularly in the eastern populations, in Russia and Kazakhstan, where knowledge of the current breeding and demographic parameters is completely lacking.
... Disturbingly, demographic modelling from survival and reproductive data now suggests populations would decline even without hunting (Bacon, 2017), indicating the need for a complete moratorium and recovery period. Released captive-bred non-migratory and migratory Asian houbara have had low breeding success and low survival success, so that the local reinforcement simply to stabilise regional migratory populations subject to current levels of offtake needs annually to be ≈1.5 times total wild numbers in the area defining the population (Azar, Rautureau, Lawrence, Calabuig, & Hingrat, 2016;Azar, Chalah, Rautureau, Lawrence, & Hingrat, 2018;Dolman et al., 2018). Even so, there is no published evidence that strategies for the release of captive-bred birds have been determined by reference to the genetic, ecological, geographic and demographic characteristics of wild populations. ...
... In any case, predation is a key factor in the natural selection processes that are necessary to the health of houbara populations. For these and other reasons (see Dolman et al., 2018) we reject predator control as a houbara management intervention, except possibly in rare circumstances where anthropogenic factors (e.g. garbage dumps: Lavee, 1988) produce unnaturally elevated local predator abundance. ...
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African houbara (Chlamydotis undulata) and Asian houbara (C. macqueenii), classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, have been over-exploited across their global ranges. The highest-profile conservation response has been large-scale releases of captive-bred birds, potentially threatening wild populations through introgression. Options for increasing numbers of the species are habitat management to counter overgrazing (in North Africa and the Middle East), mitigation of powerline collisions, predator control (ethically questionable and impractical), reduction of poaching and trapping, limited captive breeding, and hunting controls. Assuming hunting continues, the best model for conserving both species is a system of sustainable hunting that incorporates stakeholder observance, involvement of stakeholders and local communities in decisions and monitoring, protection of no-hunting areas, scientifically-determined quotas, small-scale use of captive-bred birds, and—if numbers still fail to respond, as a last resort—moratoria. These measures provide the only realistic guarantee for the long-term survival of Arab falconry, a part of humanity’s intangible cultural heritage.
... In the latter case, it was found that group size at release and food availability in release sites affected survival probability (Azar et al. 2016), although this may not be the case on other life-history traits, such as fecundity parameters in released females (Bacon et al. 2017). Whether resident houbara populations can be sustained by released birds from captive breeding or whether releases can mitigate or compensate for hunting mortality has been assessed Azar et al. 2018;Dolman et al. 2018). Such studies, however, concluded that supportive breeding to reinforce exploited populations over the long term is a high-risk strategy, so long as sourcesink dynamics operate between hunted and non-hunted areas (Hardouin et al. 2015). ...
... However, there is still uncertainty about the balance between the long-term efficiency of such costly (in both logistics and money) programmes, and indirect negative externalities such as a global fitness reduction of captive-bred birds released in the wild that may impact wild individuals. In the case of houbara bustards, several studies have warned about the use of annual supplementation to reinforce hunted populations over the long term Azar et al. 2018;Dolman et al. 2018). ...
... With continual technical refinements, captive hatching rates have increased and were recently estimated to be 67% (Dolman et al. 2015). However, hatching rates of wild birds are considerably higher (at 88%; Dolman et al. 2018). Whilst incubation temperature and mass loss across incubation (18%) have been well studied in captivity (Saint Jalme & Van Heezik 1996), there is no information on egg attendance behaviour of wild incubating houbaras, as this process is difficult to observe (Deeming et al. 2001). ...
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Artificial incubation is fundamental in ex situ avian conservation interventions for an increasing range of threatened species, but incubation parameters can differ between species. Both egg-turning angle and frequency are critical for successful embryonic development, but measuring these parameters in wild birds has historically been difficult. Using data-loggers inside artificial eggs that accurately record parental egg attendance behaviours, we quantified turning angles and rates throughout the incubation of 6 nesting wild Asian houbaras Chlamydotis macqueenii, a species bred in captivity in response to human over-exploitation. Wild females turned their eggs 0.6 times h-1 with a mean angle of 40.9° turn-1. Mimicking the patterns of wild birds (‘wild’ treatment), we applied a mean angular change of 40-50° turn once h-1 to artificially incubated eggs and compared this to eggs treated with an existing protocol (‘control’) of 120-130° per turn. Mean hatchability for the wild treatment (78.8%, n = 766) was similar to the control (76.6%, n = 1196). The wild treatment (n = 591) produced significantly heavier hatchlings (2.7%) than the control treatment (n = 893). However, chick growth rates (g d-1 and daily % mass change) and survival to Day 10 were not different between groups. The wild treatment demonstrates that turning angles affect embryo development and, perhaps, hatchability. Investigating natural incubation behaviours using egg-loggers and applying these patterns to artificial incubation appears efficacious to achieve optimal incubation protocols and reduce the need for ex situ trial and error refinement in conservation interventions of captive-bred threatened bird species.
... Myers and Worm, 2003;Finley, 2011) and in terrestrial quarry species (e.g. Banks and Springer, 1994;Dolman et al., 2018) highlighting the difficulty in achieving efficient take regulations. In our study, we found no detectable effects of changes in hunting regulations on the total turtle dove harvest at the Spanish provincial level. ...
Wildlife management regulations for exploited species often aim to manipulate harvest levels in order to avoid unsustainable levels of exploitation. For such regulations to be effective the size of the harvest needs to respond to changes in those regulatory measures. The European turtle-dove is a widespread migratory quarry species of conservation concern for which recent levels of hunting in Western Europe are considered unsustainable. We describe temporal and spatial variation in the hunting of this species across Spain, the country with the largest harvest in Europe, after reducing biases inherent in the official Government statistics. We also assess whether changes in hunting policy regulations (the number of permitted hunting days, the start date of the hunting season and daily quotas imposed on hunters) have been effective in limiting the numbers of turtle doves harvested. Official national government harvest statistics underestimated harvest reported by hunters by an average of 38% during 2007-2009 due to information gaps and underreporting, but this problem subsequently declined and was negligible by 2017. The density of shot birds was highest in the southwest of the country. None of the three regulatory measures had any detectable impact on reported provincial harvest, indicating that the main policy mechanisms employed by the Spanish hunting authorities to manage hunting have been ineffective. Our findings highlight the continued need of accurate measures of harvest and of developing and deploying effective means of managing the harvest of quarry species, especially those with unfavorable conservation status.
... Hunting rates are also often reported (e.g., Angulo and Villafuerte 66 ). Research associated with this topic is essential to evaluate the long-term sustainability of populations of hunted species and to propose measures to ensure sustainability, such as the establishment of hunting controls and quotas (e.g., Dolman et al. 67 ). ...
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The widespread activity of recreational hunting is proposed as a means of conserving nature and supporting livelihoods. However, recreational hunting-especially trophy hunting-has come under increasing scrutiny based on ethical concerns and the arguments that it can threaten species and fail to contribute meaningfully to local livelihoods. We provide an overview of the peer-reviewed literature on recreational hunting of terrestrial birds and mammals between 1953 and 2020 (>1,000 papers). The most-studied species are large mammals from North America, Europe, and Africa. While there is extensive research on spe-cies' ecology to inform sustainable hunting practices, there is comparably little research on the role of local perceptions and institutions in determining socioeconomic and conservation outcomes. Evidence is lacking to answer the pressing questions of where and how hunting contributes to just and sustainable conservation efforts. We outline an agenda to build this evidence base through research that recognizes diverse social-ecological contexts.
In this chapter, we review the way captive breeding of the little bustard is currently being carried out. Indeed, among the various conservation strategies that have been tried to reverse bustard declines, captive breeding, with reintroduction or reinforcement of local populations (“supportive breeding”), has commonly been used. After a brief review of the current captive breeding programmes in other bustard species, we focus on the little bustard reinforcement programme that has been ongoing in France since 2005. We detail the legal requirements, building equipment, and facilities required for a captive breeding centre. We then consider the results obtained between 2005 and 2019 within the three little bustard breeding centres in France in regard to egg collection, hatching success, rearing, fledging success, fledgling release and recovery rates. We also look at the impacts on wild populations, in respect of egg collecting for captivity and reinforcement of a recipient population. Over the last 10 years hatching success has declined (by c.10%, including infertile eggs) in relation to egg size, possibly as a result of senescence in females and/or males, as documented for the houbara bustard. There is some (but not significant) support of female or male senescence pattern in the number of eggs laid, the only parameter investigated here. The most critical issue is the release phase, where the rate of predation of captive-born fledglings is unacceptably high. Post-migration survival was, however, quite high (c.45%) in the first phase of the project (2005–2009), when many of the fledglings originated from wild nests but is currently far lower, c.15%.
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Ex situ conservation of species is risky and expensive, but it can prevent extinction when in situ conservation fails. We used the IUCN Guidelines on the Use of Ex Situ Management for Species Conservation to evaluate whether to begin ex situ conservation for the South-east Asian subspecies of Bengal florican Houbaropsis bengalensis blandini, which is predicted to be extinct in the wild within 5 years. To inform our decision, we developed a decision tree, and used a demographic model to evaluate the probability of establishing a captive population under a range of husbandry scenarios and egg harvest regimes, and compared this with the probability of the wild population persisting. The model showed that if ex situ conservation draws on international best practice in bustard husbandry there is a high probability of establishing a captive population, but the wild population is unlikely to persist. We identified and evaluated the practical risks associated with ex situ conservation, and documented our plans to mitigate them. Modelling shows that it is unlikely that birds could be released within 20–30 years, by which time genetic, morphological and behavioural changes in the captive population, combined with habitat loss and extinction of the wild population, make it unlikely that Bengal florican could be released into a situation approximating their current wild state. We considered the philosophical and practical implications through a decision tree so that our decision to begin ex situ management is not held back by our preconceived notions of what it means to be wild.
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The data shown in this article are the number and proportion of deaths attributable to hunting/trapping, powerline collisions and natural causes in migratory Asian houbara Chlamydotis macqueenii originating from a breeding population in Uzbekistan. For wild adult and juvenile Asian houbara wintering in Central Asia during the period 2011–2018, 53.9% and 52.9%, respectively, of mortality was due to hunting/trapping, while in contrast most mortality in captive-bred released birds was natural with only 23.3% attributable to hunting/trapping. In winter, only one instance of powerline mortality was confirmed (6.0%). For wild adults, 23.0% of mortality during the summer was due to hunting/trapping, while 30.7% was due to powerline collisions. This data article is related to the publication “Captive breeding cannot sustain migratory Asian houbara Chlamydotis macqueenii without hunting controls” (Dolman et al., 2018) where further interpretation of the population-level consequences of these mortality causes can be found.
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Around 60% of pheasants released for shooting in the UK, an estimated 21 million birds, do not end up at their intended fate: being shot. This constitutes wastage, raising economic, environmental and ethical questions. We review what is known of the fates of released pheasants and consider why they do not directly contribute to the numbers harvested. We focus on four main explanations: predation, disease, starvation and dispersal, and highlight other important causes of mortality. For each explanation, we attempt to attribute levels of loss and identify timings or conditions when such losses may be heaviest. We review factors that exacerbate losses and methods available to mitigate them. Opportunities for amelioration may arise at all stages of the rearing and release of pheasants and involve changes to the conditions under which eggs are produced, the way young pheasants are reared or the management of the environment into which they are released. We found few studies investigating impacts of post-release management techniques on pheasant survival outside of the breeding season within a UK context. We found that a number of less commonly deployed practices focusing on early-life, pre-release management may improve survival. Given the scale of pheasant releasing in the UK, even improvements in survival of 1% would mean that ~ 350,000 fewer birds die of natural causes. Complementing current post-release management with proven novel pre-release management interventions could reduce the number of pheasants required for release, whilst maintaining current shooting levels. Lowering release numbers would lower financial costs, benefit the environment and reduce some ethical concerns over the release and shooting of reared pheasants.
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The release of artificially reared pheasants is a widespread practice in Great Britain, used to increase the number of birds available for hunting. We examined the spatial and temporal patterns of release and shooting between 1960 and 2014 using data from a self-selected sample of 1195 sites. We examined changes in the efficiency of release, the contribution of birds that were not released that year to the numbers shot, and the form of these relationships through time. An annual estimate of the efficiency by which releasing increased the numbers shot was 50% over the period 1960–1990 declining rapidly to 35% by 2005 and reducing more slowly thereafter. There was no obvious regional pattern to this relationship. It has been hypothesised that the efficiency of releasing is lower on sites that release higher densities of pheasants; this study does not support this hypothesis. Annual variation in the density of birds shot in the absence of releasing (1960–1990) was closely correlated with a measure of annual gamebird chick survival. After this date, the relationship was no longer significant, consistent with a decline in wild pheasant stocks and coinciding with the declines in other farmland birds. We highlight increased fox abundance, genetic and behavioural changes arising from the rearing process, and increased shooting in late winter as possible causes for the observed decline in releasing efficiency. We consider the general increase in rearing, habitat changes, increased disease or losses to protected predators as unlikely to have been important causes of the changes in releasing efficiency. Pheasant releasing results in increased numbers for shooting, but has not prevented the wide-scale decline of wild pheasant numbers.
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Disruption of naturally evolved spatial patterns of genetic variation and local adaptations is a growing concern in wildlife management and conservation. During the last decade, releases of native taxa with potentially non-native genotypes have received increased attention. This has mostly concerned conservation programs, but releases are also widely carried out to boost harvest opportunities. The mallard, Anas platyrhynchos, is one of few terrestrial migratory vertebrates subjected to large-scale releases for hunting purposes. It is the most numerous and widespread duck in the world, yet each year more than three million farmed mallard ducklings are released into the wild in the European Union alone to increase the harvestable population. This study aimed to determine the genetic effects of such large-scale releases of a native species, specifically if wild and released farmed mallards differ genetically among subpopulations in Europe, if there are signs of admixture between the two groups, if the genetic structure of the wild mallard population has changed since large-scale releases began in the 1970s, and if the current data matches global patterns across the Northern hemisphere. We used Bayesian clustering (Structure software) and Discriminant Analysis of Principal Components (DAPC) to analyze the genetic structure of historical and present-day wild (n = 171 and n = 209, respectively) as well as farmed (n = 211) mallards from six European countries as inferred by 360 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). Both methods showed a clear genetic differentiation between wild and farmed mallards. Admixed individuals were found in the present-day wild population, implicating introgression of farmed genotypes into wild mallards despite low survival among released farmed mallards. Such cryptic introgression would alter the genetic composition of wild populations and may have unknown long-term consequences for conservation.
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The use of biologging devices continues to increase with technological advances yielding remarkable ecological insights and generating new research questions. However, as devices develop and are deployed more widely, there is a need to update our knowledge of the potential ethical impacts to allow scientists to balance these against the knowledge gained. We employed a suite of phylogenetically controlled meta‐analyses on a dataset comprising more than 450 published effect sizes across 214 different studies to examine the effects of biologger tagging on five key traits in birds. Overall, we found small but significant negative effects of tagging on survival, reproduction, parental care. In addition, tagging was positively associated with foraging trip duration, but had no effect on body mass. Meta‐regressions revealed that flying style, migration distance and proportional tag mass were significant influences producing these deleterious effects, with attachment type and position additionally important covariates influencing survival‐ and reproduction‐based effect sizes. There was a positive correlation between the effects of tagging on survival and reproduction, highlighting that effects may be cumulative, with the full effects of tagging not necessarily apparent in studies focused on single traits. We discuss the tradeoff between these negative effects and the advances gained through the use of biologgers. Finally, given the number of studies from our initial literature search that lacked sufficient data for inclusion in analyses, we provide recommendations on the essential information that all biologging studies should report in order to facilitate future assessments of impacts on animals.
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Identifying factors influencing breeding success in endangered species is vital for undertaking appropriate conservation measures. The reintroduced population of the captive-bred Asian houbara bustard Chlamydotis macqueenii in reserves of the western United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been closely monitored since releases first began in 2005. Based on 8 yr of monitoring data, we provide novel information on female breeding probability and breeding success within a desert ecosystem. Additionally, we explore factors influencing some breeding parameters. Female breeding probability was on average 0.14 ± 0.31 SD (0.01 ± 0.03 for females less than 1 yr old and 0.23 ± 0.38 for females older than 1 yr). Nest initiation date was influenced by temperature and time. Rainfall during a breeding season increased its length. The estimated nest survival rate for 23 d was 0.52, and was negatively influenced by nest initiation date. Chick survival rate to the age of 6 wk was 0.50 ± 0.39 SD, and survival rate of juveniles in their first year was 0.64 ± 0.02 SE. Our results highlight the ability of captive-bred released houbara in the UAE to breed and of wild born juveniles to survive, 2 vital prerequisites for a successful reintroduction programme. Furthermore, these breeding parameters are similar to the very few that have been reported in other studies of wild resident houbara populations. However, population recruitment rate was low (0.04 individuals per female), resulting mainly from low female breeding probability under harsh weather conditions.
Due to continued habitat destruction and species extirpations, the need to use captive breeding for conservation purposes has been steadily increasing. However, the long‐term demographic and genetic effects associated with releasing captive‐born individuals with varied life histories into the wild remain largely unknown. To address this question, we developed forward‐time, agent‐based models for four species with long‐running captive‐breeding and release programs: coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch), golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia), western toad (Anaxyrus boreas), and whooping crane (Grus americana). We found that releasing even slightly less fit captive‐born individuals to supplement wild populations can result in reductions in population sizes and genetic diversity over the long term, provided that the fitness reductions are heritable (i.e., due to genetic adaptation to captivity) and that the populations continue to be regulated by density‐dependent mechanisms. Species with longer life spans and lower rates of population replacement experienced smaller negative effects than those with shorter life spans and higher rates of population replacement. Furthermore, programs that released captive‐born individuals over fewer years or that could avoid breeding individuals with captive ancestry experienced smaller reductions in population size and genetic diversity over the long term. Relying on selection in the wild to remove individuals with reduced fitness mitigated some negative demographic effects, but at a substantial cost to neutral genetic diversity. Our results suggest that conservation‐focused captive breeding programs should take measures to prevent even small amounts of genetic adaptation to captivity, quantitatively determine the minimum number of captive‐born individuals to release each year, and fully account for the interactions among genetic adaptation to captivity, population regulation, and life history variation. Article impact statement: Small amounts of genetic adaptation to captivity may negatively impact long‐term wild population size and genetic diversity. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved
Nest-site choice profoundly influences reproductive success and the survival of incubating adult birds. Asian Houbara (Chlamydotis macqueenii) nest in subtly contrasting habitats where the main cause of nest failure is predation. We examined nest-site selection across 3 semiarid shrub habitats that differed in vegetation structure and hypothesized that increased concealment would reduce nest predation. We quantified vegetation structure at 210 nests and 194 random control sites at 2 scales, the “nest area” (50 m radius, considering mean “shrub height” and mean “shrub frequency”) and “nest scrape” (2 m radius, considering a “concealment index”). Variance ratio tests showed that variance in both shrub height and concealment index was lower at nests than at random sites, indicating nonrandom selection. Analysis of the probability of nest occurrence for nest area indicated consistent selection of intermediate shrub heights (shrub height + shrub height²) in the Astragalus, Salsola arbuscula, and S. rigida shrub assemblages (29.5–31.5 cm), although this was not supported statistically in S. rigida because the vegetation available was already similar to the optimal structure. Nest survival analysis, controlling for date, showed that shrub height (but not its quadratic term) in the nest area reduced nest predation rate. Females likely traded off nesting in even taller shrubs that may confer greater nest success against the ability to see approaching danger and thus to reduce the risk of being depredated themselves (head height during vigilance when incubating is ∼30 cm), given that we have no records of females being depredated on the nest. At the nest scrape, females strongly selected better-concealed locations, although the concealment index did not affect nest success. We suggest that concealing the scrape among shrubs may have other roles, such as thermoregulation.
In free-ranging populations, age-dependent variation in fitness related parameters, in particular the pattern of senescence, has major eco-evolutionary implications and potential influence on population dynamics. Despite the recent surge of studies of senescence in the wild, senescence patterns in species for which population dynamics assessments are crucial, such as translocated populations, remain virtually unexplored. Based on a 15-year nest survey of a North-African Houbara bustard population in Morocco, we investigated age variation in the breeding performance of captive-bred females released in the wild. We identified 781 females, from 1 to 10 years of age, on 1094 nests. We examined how age influenced nest initiation date, clutch size, egg volume, daily nest survival and daily brood survival, as well as whether age-dependent patterns varied according to environmental conditions. Most breeding parameters exhibited variation, suggesting an increase in breeding performance with age in young females (those from 1 to 3 years old). In older females (> 7–8 years old), the egg volume and clutch size decreased with age, in concordance with expectations from senescence theories and previous empirical results obtained from captive Houbara bustards. Finally, our analysis uncovered a significant interaction between age and the amount of precipitation prior to the breeding season on clutch size, suggesting differential abilities of females of different ages to increase their breeding investment. Our study suggests that life histories in translocated individuals are not affected by translocation protocols and provides insights for implementing age dependencies in population viability assessments.
Reintroduction biology is a field of scientific research that aims to inform translocations of endangered species. We review two decades of published literature to evaluate whether reintroduction science is evolving in its decision-support role, as called for by advocates of evidence-based conservation. Reintroduction research increasingly addresses a priori hypotheses, but remains largely focused on short-term population establishment. Similarly, studies that directly assist decisions by explicitly comparing alternative management actions remain a minority. A small set of case studies demonstrate full integration of research in the reintroduction decision process. We encourage the use of tools that embed research in decision-making, particularly the explicit consideration of multiple management alternatives because this is the crux of any management decisions.