What is the point of long-term monitoring in conservation?

Endemic, Enchanting, Endangered

Endemic, Enchanting, Endangered

In a recently published scientific study in the Journal of African Ornithology, the authors of the report, conservation scientists April Burt and Julie Gane collaborated in an analysis of the long-term monitoring of the Seychelles Magpie Robin (SMR) using data collected in the last eighteen years.

The report, titled Longevity and Survival of the Endangered Seychelles Magpie Robin (Copsychus sechellarum), draws from data collected on Cousin Island Special Reserve and Cousine Island, with the aim of determining how long SMRs can live and the estimated annual survival.

“I am often asked by people whether the work that we do under the banner of conservation is, in actual fact, beneficial in any way to the species,” say April Burt, former Nature Seychelles’ Conservation Manager on Cousin Island. “There is scepticism about long-term monitoring projects and if the data is actually used. Collection of data over time, as long as the methods are consistent, is one of the most valuable instruments in conservation biology – the scientific study of nature and of Earth’s biodiversity with the aim of protecting species, their habitats and ecosystems.”

SMR monitoring over the past 18 years has been extensive

SMR monitoring over the past 18 years has been extensive

The SMR, an iconic bird endemic to the Seychelles was once listed in IUCN’s list of endangered species as one of the most threatened bird species in the world, nearing extinction. After years of consistent conservation work including habitat restoration and translocations to other islands, the SMR was in 2005 downgraded from Critically Endangered to Endangered, a milestone in conservation.

The SMR once flourished in eight islands in the Seychelles, but following human settlement in the 18th century, the subsequent introduction of predators and loss of habitat, the bird became extinct in all but one of these islands. Only 23 individuals remained on Fre?gate Island.

“In 1998, Nature Seychelles took over the recovery programme initiated by BirdLife International and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and we have since set up and continue to facilitate the Seychelles Magpie Robin Recovery Team (SMART),” says Dr. Nirmal Shah, the CEO of Nature Seychelles, BirdLife partner in the Seychelles. “Such reports are vital in our conservation work as we can see what areas need more focus or even altering.”

Records are logged even before hatching photo by Rachel Cartwright

Records are logged even before hatching photo by Rachel Cartwright

The first translocations of the SMR were spearheaded by BirdLife from Fregate to Cousin in 1994 and Cousine in 1995. Later, Nature Seychelles led the translocations to Aride in 2002 and Denis in 2008. The report focused on Cousin and Cousine islands as they have had consistent data collection for the 49 and 32 individuals they respectively support. The data collected includes daily sightings; weekly behaviour and breeding; and monthly movements.

According to the report, “The thorough data collected on this species on both Cousin and Cousine since translocation has provided long-term insight into the species annual survival.” Notably, “an overall decrease in annual survival overtime on both islands was linked to population increase”.

The SMR is an aggressively territorial bird and with increased population density, there is also the added factor of competition for food, which would therefore affect the annual survival rates.

Interestingly, the study reports that the oldest recorded individual was a male who died on Cousine Island on 28th September 2000 at just under 16 years old. This individual was recorded to have hatched on Frégate Island on 3rd January 1985, before being translocated to Cousine Island in 1995.

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