Endemic to Africa’s mid-elevation forest space is the Willard’s Sooty Boubou, a bird species that, up until recently, wasn’t recognized by science.
Image Credit: J. Engel
Although researchers were undoubtedly stoked at the time to have added a new species to the world’s known animal database, conservationists now warn that the bird could be experiencing population hardships in response to human activities.
Their concerns, which have been published this week in the journal The Condor: Ornithological Applications, suggest that the species may already be endangered.
The authors reached their conclusion after analyzing local museum and bird survey records. One of the most important findings was how the Willard’s Sooty Boubou favors mid-elevation forest space and how the closely-related Mountain Sooty Boubou favors high-elevation forest space. Intriguingly, there was little or no overlap; each species stayed primarily within its preferred elevation range.
Herein lies the problem, as it’s the mid-elevation forest space that sees the most agricultural development. Alarmingly, more than 70% of the potential habitat space for the Willard’s Sooty Boubou exists outside of protected areas. That said, the risk of human encounters and habitat loss is higher for the newfound species than for the closely-related Mountain Sooty Boubou.
To make matters worse, conservation efforts are typically limited to protected areas, which fall under the remaining 30% of mid-elevation forest space in the region. That said, a significant portion of the Willard’s Sooty Boubou population doesn’t benefit from these efforts.
“Avian endemism in the Albertine Rift is among the highest of any region in Africa,” study lead author Fabio Berzaghi and his colleagues write. “Conservation of these forests is a high priority, but informed prioritization has been hampered by limited data for most endemic bird species.”
It’s of no help that the species is entirely new to science; this means there’s hardly any lifestyle or population record to go by, which makes conserving the species more problematic.
But the Willard’s Sooty Boubou isn’t the only bird that calls Africa’s mid-elevation forest space home, so conservationists have a big challenge set before them if they’re to protect some of the region’s endemic avian species.
It should be interesting to see what kinds of changes result from the findings, if any at all.