New research from the Australian National University (ANU) shows that one of our most beautiful songbirds, the Regent Honeyeater, will become extinct within 20 years unless conservation efforts are urgently stepped up.
The new study shows that current, already intensive, conservation efforts are not enough and a huge reduplication of effort is needed if we are to save these birds from extinction.
“The Regent Honeyeater population has been decimated by the loss of over 90 per cent of their preferred forest habitats,” said lead author Professor Rob Heinsohn of ANU.
“Less than 80 years ago it was one of the most commonly encountered species from Adelaide to Rockhampton. It is now well on its way to following the dodo to extinction.”
Today there are fewer than 300 regent honeyeaters, making it one of our rarest bird species. Habitat loss has forced them to compete with larger species for remaining habitats.
The ANU team embarked on a large-scale project in 2015 to better understand the population decline of the regent honeyeater, but found it to be an exceptionally difficult bird to study in the wild. As nomads, they migrate long distances in search of nectar. After 6 years of intensive fieldwork, the team found that the birds’ breeding success had declined due to predation at the nest by species such as pied currawong, noisy miners and opossums.
In their new publication, the team created population models using all available knowledge to predict what will happen to the wild population.
“Our models show that current conservation efforts have provided essential life support for Regent honeyeaters, but do not go far enough,” said co-author Dr. Ross Crates.
“We were able to isolate the three key conservation priorities necessary to ensure the future of the birds.”
First, the models show that nest success rates of wild and released zoo-bred birds must almost double. This requires protecting the nests from predators.
“Second, the number of zoo-bred birds released into the Blue Mountains must increase and be maintained alongside nest protection for at least 20 years. The Taronga Conservation Society has bred the birds in captivity and is working hard to increase the numbers for release.
Third, the models emphasize that the Regent honeyeater population can only be secured for the future if more habitat can be protected and restored.
“Without more habitat, reintroduction and nest protection efforts will be in vain as flock size will never reach the critical mass needed for the birds to breed safely without our protection,” Professor Heinsohn said.
“Our study offers both hope and a dire warning – we can save these birds, but it will take a lot of effort and resources to pull it off over a long period of time.”
The research is published in Biological Conservation. It was co-authored by members of the Regent Honeyeater Recovery team including Birdlife Australia and Taronga Conservation Society.
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