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Subdesert Mesite Monias benschi

This species is listed as Vulnerable because continuing destruction of its habitat is causing a significant population decline which is projected to be rapid in the immediate future. If habitat is not lost as fast as projected, the species may warrant downlisting to Near Threatened.

Taxonomic source(s)
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

32 cm. Strange, long-legged, rail-like terrestrial bird. Brownish-grey on back and crown, with long, dark-bordered, whitish supercilium and long, decurved blackish bill. Tail is rather long and full, legs are fairly long and pinkish. Males are whitish below, marked with black crescents, while females are variably mottled rufous-brown and black. Similar spp. From terrestrial couas Coua by long, decurved bill, pale supercilium, and either largely reddish (female) or mottled whitish (male) breast. Voice Loud, communal song. Call when disturbed is nak! nak! Hints Occurs in groups in spiny, subdesert forest.

Distribution and population
Monias benschi is restricted to a narrow coastal strip, originally 30-60 km wide and 200 km long, in south-western Madagascar between the Fiherenana and Mangoky rivers. It is common within suitable habitat, occurring at population densities of 0.2-0.3 individuals per ha (Seddon 2001). Although such habitat is threatened in the north-central, eastern and southern parts of this species's range, there is a fairly large intact block (c.2,500 km2) north of Manombo (Seddon et al. 2000). In 2002, the total population was estimated to be 115,000 individuals (Tobias and Seddon 2002).

Population justification
Tobias and Seddon (2002) provided estimates of the species's population size using five methods, the most reliable of which yielded an estimate of 115,000 individuals. The other methods gave estimates ranging from 98,000 to 152,000 individuals, and these figures are taken as the species's population range.

Trend justification
The species's habitat is being cleared and degraded, but the suspected population decline is unlikely to have exceeded 20% over the last three generations (Tobias and Seddon 2002). If levels of deforestation continue to increase at the same rate as over the period 1994-1999, the area of occupancy could decline by 26% over the period 2002-2017 (Tobias and Seddon 2002), thus it is suspected that a population decline of over 30% is possible over the next three generations.

The species is restricted to dry, deciduous spiny forest, 5-15 m high, on sandy soil, with an abundance of Didierea trees, also tolerating highly degraded forest (A.F.A. Hawkins in litt. 1995; Langrand 1990; Morris and Hawkins 1998) and inhabiting very low-stature, sparse coastal scrub Seddon et al. 2003). It feeds by picking invertebrates (and some seeds) from under the litter layer by a combination of shallow probing, flicking over dead leaves, and digging in sand. Although adapted for flight, the species in fact only flies to reach elevated roost sites and nests, and evade predators (Seddon et al. (2003). It breeds all-year round in cooperative groups of 2-9 individuals, which defend territories of 7-21 (mean of 14.9) ha (Seddon 2001; Tobias and Seddon 2002). In contrast to all other bird species in the same habitat, the species can continue to breed through the dry season and access food resources such as termites and buried invertebrate larvae (Seddon et al. 2003). The nest is a loosely woven platform of twigs, c.15 cm in diameter and c.5 cm deep, with a very shallow cup lined with fresh lichen. Breeding groups are known to construct up to five nests in a breeding season. It has been observed that one or, more commonly, two eggs are laid in each nest. Some populations are male-biased, perhaps due to higher female mortality during diurnal incubation and dispersal (Seddon et al. 2003). The generation span (average age of breeding birds) is probably more than five years (Tobias and Seddon 2002).

Overall, primary spiny forest cover has declined by 15.6% between 1962 and 1999, although in the eastern part of this species's range, it has declined by c.28% (Seddon et al. 2000; Tobias and Seddon 2002). Such clearance is mainly for slash-and-burn cultivation of maize and for charcoal production (both are increasing; Seddon 2001), and more locally for construction material and commercial timber (Seddon et al. 2000). Predation by dogs and trappers occurs, and introduced rats Rattus may pose a threat, at least locally (Langrand 1990).

Conservation Actions Underway
The spiny forest of south-west Madagascar has been identified as the biogeographic region in greatest need of additional reserves nationally (Du Puy and Moat 1996). The northern part of this region, to which the species is restricted, is entirely unprotected and is suffering the most rapid degradation (Seddon et al. 2000). Potential conservation measures have recently been recommended for the area, designed in consultation with local communities (Seddon et al. 2000). Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct regular surveys to monitor population trends. Continue to monitor the clearance of spiny forest. Establish a coordinated network of community-based conservation areas, including a large protected area (Seddon et al. 2000). Improve agricultural efficiency and control charcoal production.

Collar, N. J.; Stuart, S. N. 1985. Threatened birds of Africa and related islands: the ICBP/IUCN Red Data Book. International Council for Bird Preservation, and International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, Cambridge, U.K.

Du Puy, D. J.; Moat, J. 1996. A refined classification of the primary vegetation of Madagascar based on the underlying geology: using GIS to map its distribution and to assess its conservation status. In: Lourenço, W.R. (ed.), Proceedings of the International Symposium on the biogeography of Madagascar, pp. 205-218. ORSTOM, Paris.

Langrand, O. 1990. Guide to the birds of Madagascar. Yale University Press, New Haven, USA.

Morris, P.; Hawkins, F. 1998. Birds of Madagascar: a photographic guide. Pica Press, Robertsbridge, UK.

Seddon, N. 2001. The ecology, communication and conservation of the Subdesert Mesite Monias benschi. dissertation. Ph.D., University of Cambridge.

Seddon, N.; Tobias, J. A.; Butchart, S. H. M. 2003. Group living, breeding behaviour and territoriality in the Subdesert Mesite Monias benschi. Ibis 145: 277-294.

Seddon, N.; Tobias, J.; Yount, J. W.; Ramanampamonjy, J. R.; Butchart, S.; Randrianizahana, H. 2000. Conservation issues and priorities in the Mikea forest of southwest Madagascar. Oryx 34: 287-304.

Tobias, J. A.; Seddon, N. 2002. Estimating population size in the subdesert mesite (Monias benschi): new methods and implications for conservation. Biological Conservation 108: 199-212.

Further web sources of information
Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Ekstrom, J., Evans, M., Shutes, S., Starkey, M., Symes, A., Taylor, J.

Hawkins, F., Langrand, O., Seddon, N., Tobias, J.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Taylor, J.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2014) Species factsheet: Monias benschi. Downloaded from on 31/07/2014. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2014) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 31/07/2014.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

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To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Subdesert mesite (Monias benschi) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Vulnerable
Family Mesitornithidae (Mesites)
Species name author Oustalet & Grandidier, 1903
Population size mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 12,400 km2
Country endemic? Yes
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species