Eclectus Parrot (Eclectus roratus) is being split: assessment of newly recognised taxa.

BirdLife species factsheet for Eclectus Parrot

Following a taxonomic reassessment investigating the findings of Braun et al. (2016), Eclectus Parrot is being split into four species; Moluccan Eclectus Eclectus roratus, Papuan Eclectus E. polychloros, Sumba Eclectus E. cornelia and Tanimbar Eclectus E. riedeli.

The pre-split species was listed as Least Concern. The population was judged to be declining due to the dual impacts of trapping for the cage bird trade and high rates of habitat loss in parts of the species’s large range. Nevertheless, the overall rate of this decline was not thought to approach the thresholds for listing as threatened under Criterion A, the range greatly exceeded the thresholds for Criterion B, and the total population size was unknown but thought to considerably exceed the thresholds under Criteria C and D. Despite being legally protected in Indonesia, trade continues to be noted throughout the range (Cottee-Jones et al. 2014, Collar et al. 2019).

The reduced range size, and likely population sizes of the newly defined taxa may result in one or more qualifying for listing as threatened. For the newly recognised Moluccan and Papuan Eclectus, an initial assessment (see below) suggests that while they are considered to be declining, they are not considered to approach the thresholds for listing as threatened under the IUCN Red List (IUCN 2001, 2012). Constructive comments are still welcome on these judgements. However, Sumba Eclectus and Tanimbar Eclectus meet initial thresholds for listing as threatened, hence are assessed against all criteria.

Of importance is that there is a revised estimate for the generation length of the pre-split species of 12.7 years (BirdLife International in prep.). Here this is used for each of the newly recognised species to define the three-generation period over which to assess population decline, rounded to 38 years.

Moluccan Eclectus (E. roratus) – The new nominate species includes the two subspecies voesmaeri and roratus, and is restricted to the Moluccas, being known from the islands of Morotai, Halmahera, Ternate, Bacan and Obi (including some smaller islands), and Buru, Seram, Ambon, Haruku and Saparua (Collar et al. 2019). The newly calculated Extent of Occurrence (EOO; IUCN 2001, 2012, Joppa et al. 2016) is 234,950 km2, greatly exceeding the range-size criterion for listing as threatened under Criterion B1 (EOO < 20,000 km2).

A recent survey within the range indicates that the population remains large: on Halmahera, the population just in the Aketajawe-Lolobata National Park was estimated at 4,463 individuals in 2012 (Bashari 2012), which suggests that the overall population on Halmahera is close to 10,000 individuals. The density estimate here was 5.9 individuals/km2, which is similar to the density recorded on Seram (7.4-13 individuals/km2; Marsden 1998, 1999), and Buru (1.9 – 13 inds/km2; Marsden 1999). All populations together likely exceed the population size thresholds for listing as threatened (< 10,000 mature individuals for Criterion C, < 1,000 mature individuals for Criterion D).

However, there are concerns over the impact of trade in parts of the range. While a status assessment of the threat to parrots within the Moluccas in the 1990s did not consider Eclectus to be a priority (Widodo et al. 1999), a recent estimate of 810 (± 153) individuals harvested annually for trade on the island of Obi (Cottee-Jones et al. 2014) appears rather high. The species was found to be uncommon on Obi (Mittermeier et al. 2013; Cottee-Jones et al. 2014), and it was traded at almost double the price of any other parrot species in the bird market. While Obi is a small part of the range and the species persists there, this population appears severely threatened (Cottee-Jones et al. 2014). Lambert (1993) reported that the species was far rarer on Obi than on Bacan or Halmahera, so this may represent a real suppression of numbers by trapping. With densities elsewhere being higher, the concerning situation on Obi indicates that it is reasonable to infer that the population is declining, but that overall the rate of decline is unlikely to approach the threshold for listing as threatened under Criterion A (>30% decline in three generations). Consequently, Moluccan Eclectus is proposed to be listed as Least Concern.

Papuan Eclectus (E. polychloros) – Papuan Eclectus (E. polychloros)includes the subspecies aruensis, biaki, macgillivrayi, and solomonensis. Its range extends from the west Papuan islands (Gebe [Rothschild and Hartert 1901] including Gag Island [Johnstone 2006], Kai Islands, Aru Islands and Biak throughout lowland New Guinea, the Admiralty Islands through the Bismarck Archipelago and the Solomon Islands (except St Matthias, Nissan and Rennell), to the extreme north of Queensland, Australia (Collar et al.  2019). The EOO is 3,770,141 km2. It is considered that while the population may be declining due to trapping and habitat loss, the rate of decline is unlikely to approach the thresholds for listing the species as threatened under Criterion A (>30% decline in three generations).

Several estimates of population density exist, of which many indicate relatively high densities in excess of 10 individuals/km2. For example, densities on New Britain were estimated at 16 individuals/km2 in primary forest and 25-72 individuals/ km2 in logged forest and forest gardens (Marsden and Pilgrim 2003). In lowland rainforest on mainland New Guinea, densities were 10 individuals/km2 (Bell 1982), while the density in hillforest (between 430-950 m) was 11.3 individuals/km2 (Marsden and Symes 2006). The population on New Britain alone would therefore likely exceed thresholds for listing under the population size criterion. Overall, Papuan Eclectus is considered to have a large population and is not believed to approach the thresholds for listing as threatened. Papuan Eclectus is therefore proposed to be listed as Least Concern.

The other two newly-defined taxa have restricted ranges. Sumba Eclectus E. cornelia is only found on the island of Sumba in the western Lesser Sundas, and Tanimbar Eclectus E. riedeli on at least Yamdena Island and Larat (Bishop and Brickle 1999). As they meet the initial thresholds for listing as threatened, they are here assessed against each Red List criterion in turn.

Criterion A:

Sumba Eclectus (E. cornelia) – An assessment of the conservation status of Sumba Eclectus in 1992 (ICBP 1992) judged the taxon ‘Critical’, indicating that it was immediately threatened with extinction due to illegal take for the cagebird trade, with high mortality noted and high levels of local trade. Subsequently, detailed investigation into the parrots on Sumba used the initial Mace/Lande criteria to assess the taxon as Vulnerable under criterion C1 (Marsden 1995). The population was found to decline at a rate of 20% in 10 years (Marsden 1995), which would translate to an estimated rate of decline of 76% over three-generations (38 years). Very rapid declines have been reported over the past 25 years in the Yellow-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua sulphurea)on Sumba, which was estimated to number 3,200 mature individuals in 1992 (when thought commoner than Sumba Eclectus [Jones et al. 1995]), but which declined to 563 mature individuals by 2012 (BirdLife International 2019a). The rate of trapping of Eclectus has not been as high (Marsden et al. 1995, Jones et al. 1995), but while international trade may indeed have been lower, the level of trapping for local and national trade is not well understood. However, in 1991 the species was judged to be the “rarest Psittacine species on Sumba” (M. Riffel and D. Bekti in litt. in Jones et al. 1995). Today the species continues to be recorded locally in the interior of Sumba (eBird 2019). Encounter rates in Manupeu Tanadaru National Park surveyed in 2011 (Bashari and Wungo 2011) appear similar to those reported in the late 1980s and early 1990s (Marsden 1995, Jones et al. 1995), but the latter were from various parts of the island and the population outside of protected areas may have declined far more severely than that within. Further information is sought to inform the likely rate of decline since 1992, with an inferred continuing decline accepted on the basis of continuing trapping. Note that annual deforestation rates since 2000 on Sumba are only in the order of 0.1%, but it is suspected that large trees providing suitable nest sites for the large frugivores on Sumba may be limiting: nest sites monitored for Yellow-crested Cockatoo were regularly investigated and used by other species including Eclectus (Reuleaux 2017). Currently though, without either an estimate of the rate of harvest or a more recent population estimate than that based on data from 1992, it is very difficult to assess the species under criterion A. At present, Sumba Eclectus is considered Data Deficient under Criterion A.

Tanimbar Eclectus (E. riedeli) – There is less information available on the population of Tanimbar Eclectus, yet it may be easier to deduce a range for the population trend. This taxon was very rarely seen in trade in the 1980s and early 1990s (ICBP 1992). The species is locally l traded, with individuals noted as pets on Yamdena (Bishop and Brickle 1999), but it does not appear to be exported in large numbers from the island. Currently, eBird records (eBird 2019) indicate that the species is often observed at the edge of the extensive remaining forest, suggesting that over the whole of Yamdena and Larat the rate of decline is likely relatively small: large areas of Yamdena have limited access to people even today. Rates of deforestation within the range of Tanimbar Eclectus are approximately 8% over three generations (Tracewski et al. 2016). Even with preferential logging of potential nest sites it is unlikely that the present rate of habitat loss is sufficient to drive a decline in excess of 20% over three generations. With the additional, albeit low, threat from trapping, the species may approach, but not meet, the threshold for listing as Vulnerable (> 30% decline in three generations). This decline can only be suspected, and is considered to be due to a decline in habitat quality and potential levels of exploitation. Therefore, Tanimbar Eclectus is considered Near Threatened under criterion A, as it is believed to approach the thresholds for listing under Criterion A2cd+3cd+4cd.

Criterion B:

Tanimbar Eclectus (E. riedeli) has the smallest EOO of the newly defined species, just exceeding the threshold for listing as Endangered at 5,059 km2, while Sumba Eclectus (E. cornelia)has an EOO of 13,494 km2, so both meet the initial threshold for listing as Vulnerable. The Area of Occupancy (AOO, calculated from presence records scaled to 2 km2 by 2 km2 grid squares) has not been estimated, and the maximum AOO value of both species (assuming they occurred throughout their mapped range) exceeds the threshold for listing as Vulnerable. Hence both species cannot currently be assessed under Criterion B2. However, to list the two species as threatened under Criterion B1, at least two additional conditions must be met.

Neither Tanimbar Eclectus nor Sumba Eclectus possess populations that are thought to be ‘severely fragmented’ (IUCN 2012). The number of locations* is determined by the area of impact of the most serious plausible threat, which is trapping for the cagebird trade for both species. On Sumba, trapping of the sympatric Yellow-crested Cockatoo is continuing at a concerning rate (Reuleaux 2017), and observations of numbers of Sumba Eclectus in trading houses and as pets on the island suggests that Sumba Eclectus  is equally targeted. The degree to which protection is provided within protected areas is not clear; nevertheless, the species likely occurs at more than one location, as is persists throughout the island, including in areas with limited access for trappers. However, given the ability and motivation of parrot-trappers on the island, it is here assumed that the number of locations* for Sumba Eclectus is fewer than 10, and so condition a is met. From the observations of ongoing trapping and of birds in trade, we can infer an ongoing decline in the number of mature individuals of Sumba Eclectus. Condition b(v) is met. There is no evidence that the species in undergoing extreme fluctuations; and so condition c is not met. Consequently, Sumba Eclectus qualifies as Vulnerable under Criterion B1ab(v).

While the EOO for Tanimbar Eclectus is smaller, there is a much greater percentage of intact forest within the range and the threat from trapping appears less severe. Despite considerable levels of capture, the sympatric Tanimbar Corella (Cacatua goffiniana) has apparently maintained reasonably large populations on these islands (BirdLife International 2019b). This suggests that the number of locations* defined by the threat of trapping may be considerably more than 10. Consequently, condition a is not met. However, the sympatric corella is suspected to be suffering a moderately rapid decline. As noted under criterion A, the rate of habitat loss is approximately 8%, with additional impacts expected from selective logging. On a precautionary basis, it is inferred that Tanimbar Eclectus is also suffering a continuing decline in the area/extent and/or quality of habitat and number of mature individuals due to trapping and habitat degradation, meeting condition b(iii,v).The species is not believed to suffer extreme fluctuations, so condition c is not met. Tanimbar Eclectus is therefore considered Near Threatened under Criterion B1ab(iii,v).

Criterion C:

Sumba Eclectus (E. cornelia) – Sumba Eclectus was estimated to have a population of 1,900 individuals from surveys carried out in 1989 and 1992 (Jones et al. 1995). However, Marsden (1995) estimated a total population of 6,419 individuals from data collected during the same survey. The former study suggests a possible underestimate of the population size (Jones et al. 1995). The difference arises due to the latter study’s use of multiple density estimates for different areas of the island, which may be more accurate than the use of a single density estimate extrapolated to the estimated area of usable habitat (Marsden 1995). However, multiple estimates suffer from higher confidence intervals due to small sample sizes and the impact of one high estimate being extrapolated across a large area. There is no recent estimate of the population size, but a survey of Manupeu Tandaru National Park (Bashari and Wungo 2011) recorded encounter rates of 2.52 individuals per ten hours of observation and a total of 53 records. In comparison, in the same survey the Vulnerable Sumba Hornbill (Rhyticeros everetti) had an encounter rate of 2.95 individuals per 10 hours of observation (Bashari and Wungo 2011). Sumba Hornbill has a population of 2,500-9,999 mature individuals, with similar uncertainty around previously reported estimates (BirdLife International 2019c). All individuals belong to the same subpopulation. Should the initial population estimate of 1,900 individuals be accepted, Sumba Eclectus would meet the threshold for listing as Endangered under Criterion C2a(ii). If it is believed that there are more than 2,500 mature individuals of Sumba Eclectus in the wild, the species would qualify as Vulnerable under the same criterion. Given the suspected decline and age of the population estimates, it is proposed here to preliminarily accept the estimate of 1,900 individuals and place the population in the band 1,000 to 2,500 mature individuals. Comments are especially sought on this estimate: the uncertainty over the species current population size needs removing as best as possible.

Tanimbar Eclectus (E. riedeli) – There is no population estimate available for Tanimbar Eclectus, but anecdotal references to the species being common indicate that densities similar to those recorded for Papuan Eclectus (E. polychloros) are likely to be accurate. The population of Tanimbar Eclectus is therefore estimated to number 10,000-15,000 individuals based on an assessment of known records, descriptions of abundance and range size. This is consistent with recorded population density estimates for congeners of 11 individuals/km2, and the fact that only about 20% of the estimated EOO is likely to be occupied. This estimate is equivalent to 6,667-13,333 mature individuals, rounded here to 6,000-15,000 mature individuals. The species is considered to have only one subpopulation, with sufficient exchange of individuals suspected between the islands of Larat and Yamdena. Tanimbar Eclectus therefore qualifies as Vulnerable under Criterion C2a(ii). If the population is thought to exceed 10,000 mature individuals, the species would be considered Least Concern or Near Threatened with consideration of the uncertainty around an estimate. 

Criterion D:

Both Sumba Eclectus and Tanimbar Eclectus are believed to have populations that exceed 1,000 mature individuals and neither are highly restricted. Both are therefore listed as Least Concern under Criterion D.

Criterion E:

To the best of our knowledge no quantitative assessment of the probability of extinction has been conducted for any of the newly defined species, and so they cannot be assessed against this criterion.

Based on the above assessment, it is proposed to list Sumba Eclectus as Endangered under Criterion C2a(ii), and Tanimbar Eclectus as Vulnerable under Criterion C2a(ii).

To allow us to achieve a clearer assessment of the status of the newly defined species, information is requested on their population trends and the threats impacting on them, both currently and in the near future. Comments in support of the validity of the assumptions and the resulting assessments are also highly useful to allow the acceptance of the assessment.

Please note that this topic is not designed to be a general discussion about the ecology of the species, rather a discussion of the species’s Red List status. Therefore, please make sure your comments are about the proposed listing.

An information booklet on the Red List Categories and Criteria can be downloaded here and the Red List Criteria Summary Sheet can be downloaded here. Detailed guidance on IUCN Red List terms and definitions and the application of the Red List Categories and Criteria can be downloaded here.

*The term ‘location’ refers to a distinct area in which a single threatening event can rapidly affect all individuals of the taxon present, with the size of the location depending on the area covered by the threatening event. Where a taxon is affected by more than one threatening event, location should be defined by considering the most serious plausible threat (IUCN 2001, 2012).


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