Initial deadline for comments: 31 January 2012.
Rock Partridge Alectoris graeca is endemic to Europe, occurring only in the Alps, the Apennines, Sicily and the Balkans. It is currently listed as Least Concern, because when last assessed it was not thought to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under any of the IUCN Red List criteria.
Despite being restricted to a few countries in southern Europe, this species has a relatively large range (Extent of Occurrence [EOO] estimated at c. 500,000 km2; Hagemeijer and Blair 1997) and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criteria (B and D2: EOO of less than 20,000 km2, combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality or population size, and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population size is also relatively large (c.80,000–150,000 mature individuals; BirdLife International 2004), and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criteria (C and D1: fewer than 10,000 mature individuals, with a continuing decline estimated to be at least 10% over ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure).
Therefore, the only relevant criterion is A, which relates to reductions in population size. Until recently, the population was thought to be declining slowly, but not sufficiently rapidly to approach the threshold for listing as Vulnerable under criterion A (at least a 30% decline over ten years or three generations, whichever is longer). However, information gathered recently under an EC-funded contract (Griffin 2011) suggests that the species is declining more rapidly and more widely than was previously thought. This has been reflected in its classification as Threatened or Near Threatened in a number of recently published national Red Data Books, for example: Bulgaria – Endangered (Boev and Nikolov 2011); Croatia – Near Threatened (Tutiš et al. in press); France – Near Threatened (UICN France et al. 2011); Greece – Vulnerable (Handrinos and Katsadorakis 2009); Italy – Vulnerable (Peronace et al. in press); and Switzerland – Near Threatened (Keller et al. 2010).
In most of these cases, the species has been classified on the basis of population declines thought to approach or exceed 30% over the last three generations (c.12 years, as one generation length is estimated by BirdLife to be c.4 years). Together, these six countries are thought to hold about 70% of the species’s global population (BirdLife International 2004), so these declines (from the north-west to the south-east of its range) are significant.
The species’s status has previously been assessed twice at European level, using trend data from 1970 to 1990 (Tucker and Heath 1994) and from 1990 to 2000 (BirdLife International 2004). In both of these assessments, its status was assessed only provisionally (as ‘Vulnerable’ in 1994 and ‘Declining’ in 2004), owing to the lack of sufficient quantitative data across much of its range. This was particularly true in the Balkans, which hold a substantial proportion of the species’s population and range. Under a recent EC-funded contract (Griffin 2011), special emphasis was therefore placed on gathering information from the countries in this important region:
Albania – one source (which is used to set bag quotas for hunting) estimated the national population size at c.38,000 individuals in spring 2008, and c.30,000 individuals in spring 2010. However, these figures are an order of magnitude higher than those reported previously (e.g. 1,000–3,000 pairs; BirdLife International 2004), and other experts consider them to be large overestimates, pointing towards other sources that suggest much lower numbers and a strong decline since c.1995, with local extinctions considered likely in several areas.
Bosnia and Herzegovina – previously, no population estimate was available, but Sučić (2008) cited a figure of c.10,000 pairs. Monitoring at one site from 2000 to 2007 revealed a slight increase in the last two years, but it is not known if this has been sustained or is reflected elsewhere. Quantitative data from across the country are lacking, but over the last few decades the species is generally thought to have declined strongly (Sučić 2008).
Croatia – the national population estimate has been revised downwards from 10,000–15,000 pairs (Radović et al. 2005) to 6,000–10,000 pairs (Tutiš et al. in press), owing to better knowledge. Quantitative data are lacking, but the species is considered to be declining and several local extinctions have been reported (Budinski et al. 2010).
Greece – a recent study (2004–2010) in central Greece (Sterea Ellas) produced a regional population estimate of 20,000–37,500 pairs (Bontzorlos et al. 2011). As this region contains c.25% of suitable habitat for the species in Greece, the authors extrapolated these figures to produce a national estimate of 78,000–147,500 pairs. This is an order of magnitude higher than those reported previously (e.g. 7,000–13,000 pairs; BirdLife International 2004), and other experts consider it to be a large overestimate (e.g. Handrinos and Katsadorakis 2009). The species was reportedly stable in Sterea Ellas during 2004–2010 (Bontzorlos et al. 2011), but the national Red List documents on-going declines and local extirpations elsewhere in its Greek range (Handrinos and Katsadorakis 2009).
Macedonia (FYROM) – the national population estimate has been revised downwards from 5,000–15,000 pairs (BirdLife International 2004) to 2,000–5,000 pairs (Velevski et al. in press), owing to better knowledge. Quantitative data are lacking, but there is no evidence for a decline at several sites that are regularly monitored.
Montenegro – recent surveys (2010–2011) have yielded a maximum population estimate of c.1,300 pairs (Saveljić et al. 2011), which is lower than the previous figure of 3,000–4,000 pairs (Puzović et al. 2003) and much lower than an alternative that is used to set bag quotas and form the basis of hunting management plans.
Serbia – the national population estimate has been revised downwards from 2,000–3,000 breeding pairs (Puzović et al. 2003) to 1,000–1,500 breeding pairs (Puzović et al. 2009). The species probably declined by 20–30% during the 1990s (Puzović et al. 2003), but there is no formal monitoring, so figures must be treated cautiously.
Studies in different parts of the species’s range (summarised in Griffin 2011) indicate that it is affected by a wide variety of threats, including habitat loss and degradation (Bernard-Laurent and de Franceschi 1994), reduced connectivity between metapopulations (Cattadori et al. 2003), abandonment of traditional agro-pastoral activities (Budinski et al. 2010, Rippa et al. 2011), disturbance, poaching, unsustainable hunting, hybridisation with released captive-bred Chukar A. chukar and Red-legged Partridge A. rufa (Barilani et al. 2007, Randi 2008), and the transfer of pathogens and parasites from these species (Manios et al. 2002, Rosà et al. 2011).
Despite on-going uncertainty about the size and trend of some national populations, a balanced assessment of the available evidence suggests that overall the population of this species is probably declining at a rate approaching 30% over 12 years (three generations). For this reason, it is proposed that the species be uplisted to Near Threatened. Comments on this proposal are welcome, as are any quantitative data that could further inform the assessment.
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Boev, Z. and Nikolov, S. (2011) Rock Partridge Alectoris graeca. In: Red Data Book of the Republic of Bulgaria, Volume 2: Animals. Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and Ministry of Environment and Water, Sofia. http://e-ecodb.bas.bg/rdb/en/vol2/Algraeca.html
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Rippa, D., Maselli, V., Soppelsa, O. and Fulgione, D. (2011) The impact of agro-pastoral abandonment on the Rock Partridge Alectoris graeca in the Apennines. Ibis 153: 721–734.
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