Archived 2012-2013 topics: Royal Cinclodes (Cinclodes aricomae): downlist to Endangered?

BirdLife species factsheet for Royal Cinclodes Royal Cinclodes Cinclodes aricomae occurs in the Andes of south-east Peru (Cuzco, Apurímac, Puno, Ayacucho and Junín) and adjacent La Paz, Bolivia (C. Aucca Chutas in litt.  2012). It is currently listed as Critically Endangered under criterion C2a(i) because it has an extremely small population, thought to number <250 mature individuals, restricted to severely fragmented and rapidly declining habitat, with all subpopulations numbering ≤50 mature individuals. Historically, it was probably common, at least locally, and distributed along the entire Cordillera Real. Its habitat now occupies c.10% of the estimated potential cover in Bolivia, and possibly less than 3% in large parts of Cuzco (Fjeldså and Kessler 1996), where natural habitat halved in extent during the 1980s. The majority of Peruvian records are from near Cuzco city, in Cuzco and Apurímac (Fjeldså and Kessler 1996), including the Cordillera Vilcanota (H. Lloyd in litt. 2004), with numbers estimated at 100-150 individuals in 1990 (Fjeldså and Krabbe 1990). It was recently recorded in the Pariahuanca Valley, Junín, a significant northwesterly extension (D. Lane in litt. 2008, Witt and Lane 2009). Surveys in three river valleys of the Cordillera Vilcanota in 2003-2005 confirmed the species’s presence at only one of ten sites visited and estimated just two birds in 1.71 km2 of Polylepis habitat (Lloyd 2008). A record in 1997, in the Cordillera Apolobamba, La Paz (Valqui 2000), was the first in Bolivia since 1876, but it has since been recorded in the Ilampu Valley in 2000 (Vogel and Davis 2002) and near Sanja Pampa in 2003 (I. Gomez in litt. 2003, 2008, 2009), and subsequent surveys have found it at 14 localities in the country (J. Mobley in litt. 2010): eight in the Cordillera Apolobamba and six in the Cordillera la Paz, with the Bolivian population estimated at 50-100 individuals (D. Lebbin in litt. 2010, J. Mobley in litt. 2010, Gómez et al. 2011). An international conservation plan for the species that was being drafted in 2010 estimates the population in Peru at 181 individuals, suggesting a total population of 231-281 individuals (D. Lebbin in litt. 2010). However, recent information suggests that the species’s population may no longer be in decline. Reforestation actions have provided the microhabitat for various species of fauna that are food for the Royal Cinclodes and can be used during dry seasons (C. Aucca Chutas in litt. 2012). As a result, the population is said to be stable, and in places such as Abra Malaga (Cusco-Peru), only three pairs of this species were found for more than 20 years, but records now state that there are four pairs in this area (C. Aucca Chutas in litt. 2012). If this information is confirmed, and the species’s population has been stable or increasing for at least five years, it would no longer qualify as Critically Endangered. If the population is still estimated to be <250 mature individuals, it would warrant downlisting to Endangered under criterion D of the IUCN Red List. Further information is required on this species’s population size, trends and the size of the largest subpopulation. References: Fjeldså, J. and Kessler, M. (1996) Conserving the biological diversity of Polylepis woodlands of the highland of Peru and Bolivia. Copenhagen, Denmark: NORDECO. Fjeldså, J. and Krabbe, N. (1990) Birds of the high Andes. Copenhagen, Denmark: Apollo Books. Gómez, M. I., Naoki, K., Palabral, A., Ocampo, M., Avalos, V. and Merida, N. (2011) Informe final: Cinclodes aricomae. BirdLife International. Lloyd, H. (2008) Abundance and patterns of rarity of Polylepis birds in the Cordillera Vilcanota, southern Perú: implications for habitat management strategies. Bird Conservation International 18: 164-180. Valqui, T. (2000) Rediscovery of the Royal Cinclodes Cinclodes aricomae in Bolivia. Cotinga 14: 104. Vogel, C. J. and Davis, S. E. (2002) A new site for Royal Cinclodes Cinclodes aricomae and other noteworthy records from the Ilampu Valley, Bolivia. Cotinga 18: 104-106.

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7 Responses to Archived 2012-2013 topics: Royal Cinclodes (Cinclodes aricomae): downlist to Endangered?

  1. For this species, there must be considered the new information available on:

    Witt, C. C.; Lane, D. F. 2009. Range extensions for two rare high-Andean birds in central Peru. Cotinga: 90-94.

    The distribution area is much bigger than tought before. See quote below and more info in the article itself:

    “The record of Cinclodes aricomae reported here extends its known distribution c.300 km north- west along the east slope of the Andes (Fig. 5). Previously known localities for C. aricomae spanned 580 km along a north- west–south- east axis of the Andes. This extension of its known range along the Andes by c.35% suggests positive prospects for its conservation status, which has generally been considered dire. Our observations were consistent with the occurrence of a small breeding population on these ridges and they raise the possibility that the species may occur on other ridges between the Pariahuanca Valley and the nearest known site in dpto. Apurímac. The global population needs to be reassessed, but the major challenge will be to establish the extent of continuity of its distribution between these geographically scattered records. Surveys in appropriate habitat, in Junín, Huancavelica and Ayacucho, will be required to determine whether this new record represents an additional isolated population or whether the species is continuously distributed at low density between Apurímac and Junín. The record was also unexpected due to the lack of Polylepis in the area. Apparently, although C. aricomae usually is found in Polylepis woodland, it is not strictly specialized on Polylepis, and it has been found previously in other high-elevation habitats with similar structure (J. Fjeldså pers. comm.).”

  2. If the data used to downlist or uplist the species is ambiguous and based on very few observations, it should be clearly mentioned. I do not think that a change from three pairs to four pairs in just one locality can be extrapolated to the whole population, nor that it means the population has increased. Abra Malaga could be behaving as a sink, so if there are no hard data (population counts in a substantial portion of the distribution, or a % of habitat increase or decrease, compared to the whole known distribution) it might be better not to move the species from the current status. Does the conservation plan clearly explains how the population number was reached?

  3. Daniel Lebbin says:

    Although counts by ECOAN of Royal Cinclodes in the Cordillera Vilcanota do appear stable or increasing, they are not robust enough to really make scientific or statistical conclusions regarding population trends in this area or rangewide. The data to date is frankly insufficient to change the original reasons for listing as CR. The Royal Cinclodes still has an extremely small population, possibly numbering <250 mature individuals, restricted to severely fragmented and declining habitat. I am not sure how subpoulations were originally defined (whether as population in a single Polylepis patch or metapopulation of patches like in Vilcanota) but I don't know of a single patch with 50 individuals although there may be three metapopulations (Vilcanota, Apurimac, and La Paz) with ~135, ~80, and ~50 birds respectively. The northern populations in Junin appear to be very small with only single birds or pairs sighted at few locations. ABC and ECOAN are improving the monitoring efforts later this year in 2013 to collect better information on populations, but in the meanwhile downlisting this species seems very premature and not based on adequate data. I only learned of this forum a couple days ago and would be able to provide further commentary if I had more notice, but in the meanwhile, I would not endorse a downlisting at this time. I would prefer to wait for better data from Vilcanota and elsewhere in the bird's range before downlisting. Regardless of current population size or trends, we also have no analysed the potential for climate change to affect habitat or populations in the future, particularly outside of protected areas or in the the northern populations in Junin where there is less Polylepis to provide shade and humidity for moss (the Royal Cinclodes' foraging substrate) to grow on the ground.

  4. Dear friends, recently leaving fron some weeks at the field and seeing this issues about downlist the category of C. aricomae. Sorry if my comment produce some missunderstanding where I tell that the population in Abra Malaga is one couple more from the ussual three ones (after more than 20 years that was reported in that area), this is possible for all the activities done there only, where ECOAN is working continuosly this last 12 years, not only there is along the Vilcanota Mountains also; but this reality saddly is not the same in the other areas where this specie was reported, more of those forest are in a big threat because high percent of them are not under any protected area. In Apurimac, Puno and Ayacucho most of the points where we reported this specie are not protected and there is not any campaign to implement some conservation strategy to stop all the threats that are addressing those forest. We can not extrapolate our results from Abra Malaga to the rest of the other sites. We are working hardly along the Vilcanota Mountains where we are securing the populations of this specie and trying to increase more the area with a lot of reforestation campaign to produce a bigger habitat for this and other species. Polylepis forest doesn’t grow faster as we want and to increase one aceptable area with more moss cover, will take more time and we need more institutions working on it.
    I hardly recomended to maintain the status of Critical Endangered for C. aricomae unless a better report that can show us more successful work on the areas where this specie is. My last report for this specie at Huaytapallana Mountains, is in one area where the forest desappear just in total and the couple that we report is under a big threat by human presence and bad practices of activities that destroys the habitat of this specie.

  5. Hugo Arnal says:

    So far, there seems to be no conclusive data supporting or documenting an increase in the overall population of the species. The 2008 observation of a solitary individual of Royal Cinclodes near Parihuanca, Junin, by Witt and Lane (Witt & Lane 2009) is encouraging but suggests, as well stated by these same authors, the need to conduct more research before assuming a real range extension: “The global population needs to be reassessed, but the major challenge will be to establish the extent of continuity of its distribution between these geographically scattered records. Surveys in appropriate habitat, in Junín, Huancavelica and Ayacucho, will be required to determine whether this new record represents an additional isolated population or whether the species is continuously distributed at low density between Apurímac and Junín.” It should also be added that Witt and Lane consider the sighting of that single individual as evidence of a local population, something that also requires to be proved.

    As for population increase and estimated population sizes, the most recent published works on these matters (Lloyd 2008; Lloyd and Marsden 2009) indicate that, for a group of Polylepis forests studied by these authors in Vilcanota, ‘encounter rates’ and density estimates for Royal Cinclodes were the lowest (rarest) across all forest sizes but particularly in small forests. These authors studied forests with sizes up to 30 hectares. Polylepis bird surveys conducted by ECOAN in Conchucos, the Chubimvilca Province and other areas have yielded very low to no presence of Royal Cinclodes. In Bolivia, most sightings proceed from work conducted by I. Gómez and Kasuya Naoki, with whom I had the opportunity to visit the area a few times, in two main areas: Puina-Keara and Hilohilo-Soropata. That I recall, while writing this comment, the population was small and individuals seem to occupy/use an average of 3 to 4 hectares.

    While Royal Cinclodes does not seem specialized on ‘Polylepis trees’ per se, so far it seems strongly dependent on the micro conditions of high Andean forest habitat as clearly demonstrated by Lloyd and Marsden (2009). The different Polylepis species are by far the most important elements of high Andean forests, often the only arboreal elements.

    In a study that should be concluded and published later this year, a ‘Pan Andean Map of High Conservation Priority Polylepis Forests’, among 129 high priority forests identified for the Cuzco department 60% are under 10 hectares in size and 80% under 30 hectares. If we extrapolate the findings of Lloyd (2008) to these forests, assuming they all are prime quality habitat homogeneously, which is seldom the case, the 3,874 hectares of forest could be home to a population of 40 to 80 individuals, depending on how the estimation is conducted. While Polylepis reforestation in Vilcanota developed by ECOAN is succeeding and presents very high rates of tree survival, even the oldest plantations are still too young as to present the necessary microclimate and microhabitat to restore mossy conditions of the soil and sustain a viable population of the species.

    It seems premature to downlist Royal Cinclodes to only ‘Endangered’. Such downlisting will make more difficult the protection of the species and of Polylepis forests across the Southern Peruvian Andes. It will also diminish the opportunities to raise necessary funds for the protection of this species but also many other species that are equally dependent on Polylepis such as Ash-breasted Tit-Tyrant, White-browed Tit-Spinetail and G. andicola, just to name a few others.

    I would strongly recommend maintaining current conservation status as CR.

  6. Daniel Lane says:

    I do not have immediate access to the Lloyd and Marsden papers listed above, so perhaps this is simply repeating what is said there, but my impression of this species’ distribution is that it is driven by the presence of high-elevation woodland (primarily, but not solely, Polylepis) on slopes below glaciers. This would explain the patchy distribution of the species and its absence from Polylepis patches that are not around nevados. With the shrinking of glaciers due to global climate change, the long term outlook for such habitats and the birds that live within them may be grim (and there may be nothing we can do to prevent their extinction!), but searches in such habitat around other east slope nevados may be key to finding more undiscovered populations of the species, as the recent records from Huaytapallana may suggest. In the case of this last locality, I have seen news releases that the species has been found (although ABC’s term “discovered” seems a bit off) around Huaytapallana more recently by EcoAn researchers, confirming the presence of a population here, so my sightings from 2008 were not of a ‘lost’ individual. This may loosen the noose a bit for the species (now that there is another locality), but nevados in the region between Apurimac and Junin must now be searched to see if there are yet more unknown populations out there. A quick view of GoogleEarth reveals no other nevados in between these sites, but there are some smaller ones to the east of Huaytapallana that may also have suitable habitat on their flanks.

  7. Hugo Arnal says:

    Thanks, Dan, for following up with additional comments. Agree! There is need for further exploration/research in the areas you indicate. BTW, papers sent a moment ago.


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