Archived 2015 topics: Caucasian Grouse (Lyrurus mlokosiewiczi) – downlist from Near Threatened to Least Concern?

Caucasian Grouse Lyrurus mlokosiewiczi is endemic to the Greater and Lesser Caucasus mountains. It is currently listed as Near Threatened, because when last assessed it was projected to undergo a moderately rapid population decline owing to road construction for tourism development, through increased hunting, grazing and wood cutting, as well as habitat fragmentation.

Globally, it has a relatively large range (>80,000 km2), and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criteria (B and D2). Its population size is also reasonably large, comprising between c. 30,000–63,000 individuals based on habitat modelling (Gavashelishvili & Javakhishvili 2010) and c. 11,500–25,500 lekking males (i.e. c. 34,500–76,500 individuals) based on national estimates (BirdLife International 2015), and hence does not 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 projected to undergo a moderately rapid decline, at a rate approaching 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) suggest that the species may not be declining as steeply as projected, although there are gaps in the data. These data, provided by BirdLife Partners and other leading national ornithologists, suggest that the Russian population has been stable since at least 2000, while the Turkish population may have declined by only 10–19% since 1990. No recent trend data were available for Georgia, Armenia or Azerbaijan, but considering those reported for the previous European assessment (BirdLife International 2004), it seems that overall the European population may have only declined by <20% over the last three generations (19.2 years, based on a generation length estimated by BirdLife to be 6.4 years). Consequently, the species is now classified as Least Concern at European level (BirdLife International 2015).

Based on its distribution, Europe holds >95% of the global range of this species, so its trend in this region is of global significance. The only other population is in NW Iran, which has recently been the subject of several studies (e.g. Habibzadeh et al. 2013, Darvishi et al. 2015), and is thought to have increased in size from 215 individuals in 2001 to 350 individuals in 2009 (Khaleghizadeh et al. 2011).

Overall, therefore, the limited information available implies that the species is not declining sufficiently rapidly to be listed as Near Threatened, and hence should be reclassified as Least Concern.

Comments on this proposal are welcome, along with any data regarding population trends elsewhere in the Caucasus (especially in Georgia), and any current information about the threats affecting this species.

References

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

Darvishi, A., Fakheran, S., & Soffianian, A. (2015). Monitoring landscape changes in Caucasian black grouse (Tetrao mlokosiewiczi) habitat in Iran during the last two decades. Environmental monitoring and assessment, 187(7), 1-13.

Gavashelishvili, A. & Javakhishvili, Z. (2010) Combining radio-telemetry and random observations to model the habitat of Near Threatened Caucasian grouse Tetrao mlokosiewiczi.” Oryx 44: 491-500.

Habibzadeh, N., Karami, M., Alavipanah, S. K., & Riazi, B. (2013). Landscape Requirements of Caucasian Grouse (Lyrurus mlokosiewiczi) in Arasbaran Region, East Azerbaijan, Iran. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 125(1), 140-149.

Khaleghizadeh, A., Scott, D. A., Tohidifar, M., Babak, S., Musavi, M. G., Sehhatisabet, M. E., & Eskandari, F. (2011). Rare birds in Iran in 1980−2010. Podoces 6: 1-48. www.wesca.net

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7 Responses to Archived 2015 topics: Caucasian Grouse (Lyrurus mlokosiewiczi) – downlist from Near Threatened to Least Concern?

  1. Andy Symes (BirdLife) says:

    Extract from comments from Elchin Sultanov (Azerbaijan Ornithological Society):

    (Caucasian Grouse is) always under threat because this habitat is just a narrow strip between forest and alpine belt and this strip continues to decrease and is under big pressure from grazing.

    • Jonathan Etzold says:

      Me too, I do not think that downlisting CBG is properly reflecting the species’ situation. In 2002, I started together with Elchin Sultanov and Siegfried Klaus to study the species and its habitat in Azerbaijan and I have seen also some part of its range in Georgia. The findings in Etzold (2005) remain valid. Since then, grazing pressure in the species’ habitat continued to increase steadily, reflected by the highest number of small ruminants (sheep+goats) and cattle ever recorded in the country’s history (official statistical information in Neudert et al., 2013, the actual numbers are very probably significantly higher); in case of small ruminants with approx. 1.5 Mio heads in the 1930ies, reaching + 8.4 Mio in 2013, for cattle from approx. 1 Mio to +2.4 Mio heads.
      Most of this livestocks stays during summer months on high mountain pastures, stretching from the montane belt (pastures in the forest zone) to the higher alpine, i.e. the CBG’s habitat at the timberline is under pressure from all directions. Besides disturbance by these massive livestock flocks destroying/affecting subalpine woods, accompanying shepherd dogs roam the habitat in the search of prey, as they are often not supplied sufficiently within the herders’ camps. This means that only for the reason of livestock growth, the situation for the fragmented CBG populations at least for Azerbaijan CANNOT BE BETTER!
      Besides, poaching pressure on game like Capra cylindricornis continues and most likely also on other game species like CBG, as law enforcement is insufficient due to limited human ressources, even within protected areas.
      Massive tourism development took place in one of the best known CBG habitats (Betula litwinowii coppice) in Gusar district, near the village of Laza, where the first winter sports complex was constructed since 2009, with plans of huge extensions around Mt. Shahdag.
      Furthermore, the species’ population was never totally assessed in the country, only estimated on the basis of a few leks found and single observations. Habitat modelling like in Gavashelishvili & Javakhishvili 2010 might result in suitable habitats (timber line) which however at least for Azerbaijan have to be linked to current grazing pressure, e.g. by locating shepherd camps and considering average (or better real) pasture sizes and livestock numbers.
      Additionally, a real on-ground monitoring for the species in Azerbaijan is at the time not in sight, due to a lack of capacities, which suggests still a high uncertainty about the species’ current situation and which does NOT provide a justification for downlisting the species’ status.

      For Georgia, according to own observations the distribution of grazing pressure is very uneven, although total livestock numbers are lower compared to Soviet times. Grazing pressure is particularly high outside of Lagodekhi Protected Areas, with strong pressence of livestock in the CBG habitat. For Kasbegi, grazing pressure is relatively low, compared to Soviet times. The situation might be better there now. However, positive tourism development in the CBG’s habitat might be counterproductive for the species’ wellbeing. For Tusheti Protected Areas total livestock numbers seem to be lower as well, however the current distribution of herds might be detrimental to CBG occurrence: herders prefer to graze their livestock in the lower subalpine zone (the species’ main habitat), i.e. near villages and infrastructure like roads, while higher alpine pastures far from any subalpine forests can be partly considered as “undergrazed”, of which CBG of course has no benefit.
      In general in Georgia, pasture tenure is under strong debate, due to several strategic shifts under several governments, with currently low enforcement of regulations, causing high uncertainties for future pasture organization. Georgia fosters strong tourism development which might affect CBG’s habitats. Therefore, also for Georgia I do not see reason for leaning back and downlisting CBG to “Least Concern”.

      References:
      Etzold, J. (2005) Analyses of vegetation and human impacts in the habitat of the Caucasian Black Grouse Tetrao mlokosiewiczi in the Greater
      Caucasus/Azerbaijan. Archives of Nature Conservation and Landscape Research, 44(4), 7-36

      Neudert, R., Etzold, J., Münzner, F., Manthey, M. and Busse, S. 2013. The Opportunity Costs of Conserving Pasture Resources for Mobile Pastoralists in the Greater Caucasus. Landscape Research: 38(4), 499-522.

  2. Andy Symes (BirdLife) says:

    The following comments were provided by N. Habibzadeh:

    Based on my ongoing activities about Caucasian grouse (CG) in Iran which is initiated at least since seven years ago up to present and I always attempted to visit some its major habitats on frequently two years periods, in my opinion its population size may be so smaller than the assertions of some previous works in Iran. In my opinion, only researchers that are concern on this species and have traveled to its ranges are numerable individuals. Others researchers (Khaleghizadeh et al. 2011, Darvishi et al. 2015) who documented some information are someone that carried out their own works based on works of them. If we consider precisely previous published documents regards to its population trends, it is clearly that all earlier published documents (those which published, realistic and true) prove population declining. For example, according to Masoud and Fanid (2006), CG population size even in core zone (KALAN region) of Arasbaran biosphere reserve was significantly decreased (51%) than to past findings (Scott, 1971). Although, we completely respect to rights of our colleagues,s reporting (Khaleghizadeh et al. 2011) which have claimed about increasing trend of population, but if we look at carefully to their findings it will be clear that its results are based on only one unpublished source and also it is not completely obvious to us their own estimation approaches and methods, so I cannot convince to robust of their work.

    Lastly, based on my knowledge about this peculiar species, the documented studies of population size estimation have not yet conducted as reliable as possible to assess and claim about CG population size increasing trend in Iran. According to our research (Habibzadeh et al. 2014), the number of 27 breeding display sites (Habibzadeh et al. 2010, 2013) has been decreased to 22 leks on update CBG distribution area because we never observed any lekking grouse in some past endorsed lek sites based on our progressive activities(at least seven years).

    References:
    Darvishi, A., Fakheran, S., & Soffianian, A. (2015). Monitoring landscape changes in Caucasian black grouse (Tetrao mlokosiewiczi) habitat in Iran during the last two decades.Environmental monitoring and assessment, 187(7), 1-13.

    Habibzadeh, N., Karami, M., Alavipanah, S. K., & Riazi, B. (2013). Landscape Requirements of Caucasian Grouse (Lyrurus mlokosiewiczi) in Arasbaran Region, East Azerbaijan, Iran. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 125(1), 140-149.

    Habibzadeh, N. Karami, M. Tarinejad, A. 2010: Micro-Habitat Characteristics of Breeding display Sites (Leks) of Caucasian Black Grouse (Tetrao mlokosiewiczi) in Arasbaran Region, East Azerbaijan, Iran. — Russian Journal of Ecology, 41(5): 450-457

    Habibzadeh, N. Rafieyan, O. (2014).Preliminary introduction to Caucasian black grouse in Iran. Grouse News- Newsletter of the WPA/BirdLife/IUCN/SSC Grouse Specialist Group, 48: 13-15.

    Khaleghizadeh, A., Scott, D. A., Tohidifar, M., Babak, S., Musavi, M. G., Sehhatisabet, M. E., & Eskandari, F. (2011). Rare birds in Iran in 1980−2010. Podoces 6: 1-48.

    Masoud, M., and Fanid, L.E. (2006). A Study of Caucasian black grouse Tetrao mlokosiewiczi population dispersion confined in Iran. Grouse News- Newsletter of the WPA/BirdLife/IUCN/SSC Grouse Specialist Group, 31: 5-8.

  3. Sureyya Isfendiyaroglu says:

    Primary threats on Caucasian black grouse are habitat bisection and poaching in Turkey. Recently announced “green road” project to be constructed on lesser Caucasus in Turkey is aimed to connect the seasonal highland villages in east west direction and will establish a road network, that is 2.600 km long among the highlands!!! This road project will have immense impact on alpine bird communities, primarily the Caucasian black grouse. The remaining pockets of suitable habitat, that’s not effected by the immense road project will be impacted by increasing number tourism infrastructure and increasing number of second houses, which are also planned as part of the project. The easy access will also increase the number of poachers, there’re several readily several locations, where the local populations had undergone huge declines or depleted around Artvin region in the last decade. The impact of the increasing number of hydroelectric power plant constructions in the upstream is currently unknown.

  4. Klaus, Siegfried says:

    CBG is in danger becauseof overgrazing, illegal hunting, forest decline near timberline
    in whole Aserbaidshan, Turkey, Iran. In large parts of the Caucasus (Russia, Georgia) the area is seriously fragmented . Protection works only in reserves, but also there illegal hunting and lack of trained personal is a increasing problem.The estimates of population size are in no way safe and based on ground census as done in other grouse.
    The list of references given as a base for your suggestion is very incomplete.

  5. Andy Symes (BirdLife) says:

    Preliminary proposals

    Based on available information, our preliminary proposal for the 2015 Red List would be to continue to treat:

    Caucasian Grouse as Near Threatened under criterion A3.

    There is now a period for further comments until the final deadline of 31 August, after which the recommended categorisation 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.

  6. Andy Symes (BirdLife) says:

    Recommended categorisation to be put forward to IUCN

    Following further review, there have been no changes to our preliminary proposal for the 2015 Red List status of this species.

    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.

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