Archived 2010-2011 topics: Paramo Tapaculo (Scytalopus opacus) and Paramillo Tapaculo (S. canus) have been split: list as Least Concern and Endangered respectively?

Link to BirdLife species factsheet for Paramo Tapaculo (prior to taxonomic change)

Paramillo Tapaculo Scytalopus canus and Paramo Tapaculo S. opacus have been split following a decision by the AOU South American Classification Committee ( based on recommendations made by Krabbe and Cadena (2010). Differences in vocalisations and the level of genetic divergence between these taxa support the view that they are sufficiently distinct as to be treated as separate species (Krabbe and Cadena 2010).

It is proposed that S. opacus, which ranges from the Central Andes of Colombia, south through Ecuador to northern Peru, be listed as Least Concern on the basis that it does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under any of the IUCN criteria. The species’s range does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence less than 20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be stable in the absence of evidence for any declines and substantial threats, hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (at least a 30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size has not been quantified, but it is not believed to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (fewer than 10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be at least 10% over ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure).

Mapping by BirdLife of the known range of S. canus in the Western Andes of Colombia suggests that its Extent of Occurrence (EOO) is c.940 km2. This indicates that the species may be eligible for Endangered status under the B criterion. To qualify for Endangered the species’s habitat must be shown to be severely fragmented, i.e. over 50% of suitable habitat in patches too small to support viable populations, or occur at five locations or less, with an ongoing decline observed, inferred or projected in the EOO, Area of Occupancy, area, extent and/or quality of habitat, number of locations or sub-populations or number of mature individuals. Note that for the purposes of the Red List criteria ‘location’ defines a “geographically or ecologically distinct area in which a single threatening event can rapidly affect all individuals of the taxon present. The size of the location depends on the area covered by the threatening event and may include part of one or many subpopulations. Where a taxon is affected by more than one threatening event, location should be defined by considering the most serious plausible threat” (IUCN 2001).  Krabbe and Cadena (2010) do not seem concerned over the conservation status of S. canus, pointing out that it occurs in two protected areas and may be present on other areas of páramo. However, these protected areas may offer little in the way of de facto protection (P. G. W. Salaman in litt. 1999). In general, the main threats to páramo habitats are livestock-grazing and fires set by tourists or to encourage vegetation to shoot (Wege and Long 1995, Kessler and Herzog 1998, P. G. W. Salaman in litt. 1999, Koenen and Koenen 2000).

Draft BirdLife range map for Paramillo Tapaculo

With all this in mind, further information is requested on S. canus, in particular the likely population size, estimated population trend, level of habitat fragmentation and the severity of potential threats.

IUCN (2001) IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria: Version 3.1. IUCN Species Survival Commission. Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK: IUCN.

Kessler, M. and Herzog, S. K. (1998) Conservation status in Bolivia of timberline habitats, elfin forest and their birds. Cotinga 10: 50-54.

Koenen, M. T. and Koenen, S. G. (2000) Effects of fire on birds in páramo habitat of northern Ecuador. Ornitol. Neotrop. 11: 155-163.

Krabbe, N. and Cadena, C. D. (2010) A taxonomic revision of the Paramo Tapaculo Scytalopus canus Chapman (Aves: Rhinocryptidae), with description of a new subspecies from Ecuador and Peru. Zootaxa 2354: 56-66.

Wege, D. C. and Long, A. J. (1995) Key Areas for threatened birds in the Neotropics. Cambridge, U.K.: BirdLife International (BirdLife Conservation Series 05).

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3 Responses to Archived 2010-2011 topics: Paramo Tapaculo (Scytalopus opacus) and Paramillo Tapaculo (S. canus) have been split: list as Least Concern and Endangered respectively?

  1. Niels Krabbe says:

    Much treeline scrub remains on the two largest paramos, Paramillo and Frontino. Treeline is still at 3500 m on Frontino, so although burning of the paramo must have caused the loss of many elfin forest patches, its lowering of the treeline appears to have been moderate.
    There is no evidence of a decline in recent years.

  2. Andy Symes says:

    Fundacion ProAves have provided the following information:

    Scytalopus opacus is common in the timberline and paramo areas of the Northern Andes of Colombia, Ecuador, and northern Peru and considered Least Concern.

    Scytalopus canus was described 95 years ago by Frank Chapman on the basis of ten specimens collected on Páramo de Paramillo in the Western Cordillera of Antioquia, Colombia. This site has not been visited since then. In August 2004, a ProAves expedition to Páramo del Sol (also known as Páramo Frontino), in the municipality of Urrao, Antioquia – 70 km SSW of Páramo de Paramillo found what is assumed to be Scytalopus canus (Krabbe & Cadena 2010). See Donegan & Avendaño (2008) for a list of some specimens. The expedition also rediscovered the Critically Endangered Dusky Starfrontlet and led to the establishment of the Colibri del Sol Bird Reserve that protects a tract of montane forest and páramo in the Paramo del Sol massif.

    Scytalopus canus is known from a narrow zone of treeline vegetation (scrub, stunted trees) and from Polylepis woodland situated between montane forest and páramo grasslands that is often just a few hundreds of meters wide on Paramo del Sol. Ecologically, it appears to occupy a similar habitat type to that of S. griseicollis in the East Andes or S. opacus in the Central Andes – in the paramo / forest ecotone and along stunted ridgetop vegetation. The West Andes is a lower elevation range to those other two ranges, meaning that little such habitat exists. There are however various peaks which attain sufficiently high elevations, including Paramo del Sol and Paramillo. While locally common within such habitat, the estimated AOO in Paramo del Sol is estimated at less than 10 km2. An over-flight of Paramillo National Park in 1999 by Thomas Donegan and others documented that the small timberline and páramo of Páramo de Paramillo was largely intact although the extent of timberline and páramo habitat is tiny and limited to a few steep ridges.

    The EOO for Scytalopus canus is <70 km2 considering all possible peaks and elevations in the region. ProAves has documented deforestation rates and threats across Paramo del Sol and published a Conservation Plan for the region with CorpoUraba and Municipality of Urrao. The principal threat to Scytalopus canus is a lack of protection of its sensitive timberline habitat. Only ~1.4 km2 is effectively protected by the Colibri del Sol Bird Reserve. While Páramo de Paramillo is technically protected within Paramillo National Park, the conservation of this park is particularly disastrous with high deforestation rates ongoing within the park and no apparent attempts to stop it. The political situation there is complicated and severely restricts effective conservation action (e.g. against illegal encroachment or deforestation). Within 10-15 years, little forest may remain intact within this park if this situation persists.

    Both Paramo del Sol and Paramillo National Park have suffered from deforestation and habitat fragmentation. They are especially prone to habitat loss from fires which was recently witnessed when a major forest/páramo fire accidentally started by hikers destroyed a valley of Scytalopus canus habitat in Paramo del Sol (January 2010). The future impacts of climate change also present great risks (especially droughts and fires, as well as the possibility that specialist high elevation habitats may reduce in size).

    Whilst Scytalopus are typically common in their preferred habitat, given the severity of observed and potential threats over the next decade and tiny AOO of this species (with less than 20% protected), as a precautionary approach Scytalopus canus should be considered as Critically Endangered meeting criteria: B2a+b(i,ii,iii,iv,v), although the population size is estimated to be fewer than 1000 individuals (EN C1).

    Donegan, T.M. & Avendaño–C, J.E. (2008) Notes on Tapaculos (Passeriformes: Rhinocryptidae) of the Eastern Andes of Colombia and the Venezuelan Andes, with a new subspecies of Scytalopus griseicollis from Colombia. Onitologia Colombiana 6: 24–65.

    Fundacion ProAves (in press) The status of various threatened or potentially threatened birds in Colombia. Conservación Colombiana 14

  3. Niels Krabbe says:

    I was surprised at seeing that there seems to have been little change in forest cover at Paramillo over the last decade, as judged from (admittedly poor resolution) photographs on Google Earth.

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