Archived 2015 topics: Black Lark (Melanocorypha yeltoniensis) – request for information from Central Asia

Black Lark Melanocorypha yeltoniensis breeds in SW Russia and N Kazakhstan, and winters south to the Black Sea, Caucasus, N Iran and southern Central Asia (Alström 2004). 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.

Globally, it has an extremely large range in both the breeding season (>2 million km2) and in winter (>2 million km2), and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criteria (B and D2). Its population size is poorly known, but when last assessed its populations in the most suitable habitat in central Kazakhstan were estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands, and maybe even millions of breeding pairs (T. Barabashin in litt. 2005), so it was not considered to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criteria (C and D1). Therefore, the only potentially 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).

New data collated from across Europe for the European Red List of Birds (BirdLife International 2015) indicate that the species has continued to decline precipitously in the region, with well-documented losses in European Russia of >99% since 2000 alone. As a result, only 50–100 pairs are estimated to remain in Europe, compared to 4,000–7,000 pairs at the end of the last century (BirdLife International 2004). At regional level, the species is therefore now considered to be Critically Endangered in Europe.

However, less than <10% of the species’ global breeding range occurs in Europe, so globally its status depends on trends in Kazakhstan and adjacent SW Asian Russia. When last assessed in 2006, a mixed pattern emerged, and interpretation of the limited available information on population trends was complicated by the species’s nomadic nature and large interannual fluctuations in abundance and distribution (see current global factsheet for details). Overall, it was felt that the species was not declining at a rate approaching 30% decline over ten years or three generations, whichever is longer – in this case, the relevant period is 11.4 years, based on a generation length estimated by BirdLife to be 3.8 years.

However, recent publications suggest that the species may be more at risk from land-use change than previously assumed (e.g. Oparin & Oparina 2010; Kamp et al. 2011, 2012; Smelansky & Tishkov 2012), which implies that the rapid declines observed in European Russia might also be occurring more widely.

To reassess its global status, information is sought about its current population status and recent trends in Central Asia, along with any additional information about the threats affecting this species across its range.

References

Alström, P. (2004). Black Lark (Melanocorypha yeltoniensis). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2014). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. www.hbw.com

BirdLife International (2004) Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status. Cambridge, UK: BirdLife International (Conservation Series No. 12).

BirdLife International (2015) European Red List of Birds. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities. http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/info/euroredlist

Kamp, J., Urazaliev, R., Donald, P. F., & Hölzel, N. (2011). Post-Soviet agricultural change predicts future declines after recent recovery in Eurasian steppe bird populations. Biological Conservation, 144(11), 2607-2614.

Kamp, J., Siderova, T. V., Salemgareev, A. R., Urazaliev, R. S., Donald, P. F., & Hölzel, N. (2012). Niche separation of larks (Alaudidae) and agricultural change on the drylands of the former Soviet Union. Agriculture, ecosystems & environment, 155, 41-49.

Oparin, M.L. & Oparina O.S. (2010) Population trends of larks in steppes of Zavolzhye during last century in connection with anthropogenic transformation of habitats and natural processes. Ornithology in Northern Eurasia. Materials of the XIIIth International Ornithological Conference of Northern Eurasia. Abstracts of papers. Orenburg, Publishing House of the Orenburg State Pedagogical University: 242 (in Russian).

Smelansky, I. E., & Tishkov, A. A. (2012). The Steppe biome in Russia: Ecosystem services, conservation status, and actual challenges. In Eurasian Steppes. Ecological problems and livelihoods in a changing world (pp. 45-101). Springer Netherlands.

This entry was posted in Archive, Asia, Europe & Central Asia and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Archived 2015 topics: Black Lark (Melanocorypha yeltoniensis) – request for information from Central Asia

  1. Andy Symes (BirdLife) says:

    Preliminary proposals

    Based on available information, our preliminary proposal for the 2015 Red List would be to pend the decision on Black Lark and keep this discussion open until 2016, while leaving the current Red List category unchanged in the 2015 update.

    Information from Central Asia is needed before the global status can be resolved.

    There is now a period for further comments until the final deadline of 31 August, after which recommended categorisations will be put forward to IUCN.

    The final Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife website in late October and on the IUCN website in November, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

  2. I think it’s a good idea to keep the discussion open for now.

    The species is still very abundant in Kazakhstan (incl. the European part of the country west of the Ural river, as surveys in 2015 confirmed). Again, there are no robust trend data available from any region within the distribution range, but I believe that the above statement is still correct: ‘Its population size is poorly known, but when last assessed its populations in the most suitable habitat in central Kazakhstan were estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands, and maybe even millions of breeding pairs (T. Barabashin in litt. 2005)’.

    Black Lark is a tricky one to assess, as the distribution is patchy, and as it can reach high densities in certain areas, but be absent in neighbouring regions that look exactly the same. Extrapolation of density data to larger areas in order to estimate a global population size is therefore extremely difficult, which is why we have not yet attempted this. Finally, sex ratios in the species are extremely skewed (ca. 0.85 to 0.89 in most areas of Kazakhstan!) suggesting a large proportion of non-breeding birds.
    I feel that agricultural reclamation of abandoned fields (a hotspot hosting very high Black Lark densities) has caused a moderate local decline between 2008 and 2015 in Kazakhstan, but we have too little data to show this.
    We are now beginning to understand the drivers of habitat selection and also the population ecology of the species (two papers submitted, see below). From this, it appears that the species needs heterogenous (tall vegetation for nesting, low vegetation for foraging) steppe habitat, as created by either fire, the presence of saline lakeshores adjacent to tall steppe, or livestock grazing. The fate of the species will depend on sufficient high grazing levels on the Kazakh steppe. Grazing pressure increased since 2000, so the situation is not too bad. Fire recurrence rates also strongly affect the species, but little is known about this.
    Overall, I am guessing that the large-scale situation in Kazakhstan has been stable since 2005, or that there wer slight declines at most.

    I believe that the reported declines in Russia are real, and they have been mirrored (albeit very locally) in N Kazakhstan (e.g. in the Pavlodar province). Most likely, they are linked to land-use changes, especially changes in grazing pressure. However, the Russian population always comprised only an insignificant proportion of the world population, so I would not emphasize theese declines too much.

    Best wishes
    Johannes Kamp

    References:

    Fijen TPM, Kamp J, Lameris TK, Urazaliev R, Pulikova G, Kleijn D, Donald PF (2015, accepted) Functions of extensive animal dung ‘pavements’ around the nests of the Black Lark Melanocorypha yeltoniensis. The Auk

    Lameris T, Fijen T, Urazaliev R, Pulikova G, Donald PF and Kamp J (2016, under review): Breeding ecology of the endemic Black Lark Melanocorypha yeltoniensis on natural steppe and abandoned croplands in post-Soviet Kazakhstan. Biodiversity and Conservation

  3. Andy Symes (BirdLife) says:

    Recommended categorisation to be put forward to IUCN

    Based on further information received, we have been able to change the preliminary proposal and revise the recommended classification on the 2015 Red List to Least Concern.

    The final categorisation will be published on the BirdLife website in late October and on the IUCN website in November, following further checking of information relevant to the assessment by BirdLife and IUCN.

Comments are closed.