Occupancy of the Ethiopian endemic Moorland Francolin
Occupancy modeling is an essential tool for understanding species-habitat associations, thereby helping to plan the conservation of rare and threatened wildlife species. The conservation status and ecology of several avian species, particularly ground-dwelling birds, are poorly known in Ethiopia. We used camera trap-based occupancy modeling to investigate habitat covariate influence on occupancy (Ψ) and detection probability (ρ) estimates of Moorland Francolins Scleroptila psilolaema from spatially replicated surveys across both relatively pristine and disturbed landscapes in the Afroalpine biome of Ethiopia. Model-averaged estimate of ψψ̂ across all sites was 0.76 (SD = 0.28) and ρρ̂ was 0.77 (SD = 0.13) in the pristine landscape. The ψψ̂ of the species in the disturbed landscape was 0.56 (SD = 0.19) and ρρ̂ was 0.48 (SD = 0.06). As hypothesized, based on our model-averaged beta coefficient estimates (βmean ± SE), predators significantly negatively influenced the occupancy of Moorland Francolins in pristine habitat. We also found a significant positive association of occupancy with herb species richness. Contrary to our prediction, distance to road significantly negatively influence the occupancy of the species, suggesting that occupancy probability was highest in proximity to roadsides and trails in the pristine habitat. There was no significant influence of habitat covariates on the occupancy of the species in the disturbed habitat. The most important covariates that significantly influence the detectability of the species in pristine habitat included sampling occasion and precipitation. The greater occupancy and detectability of this endemic species in the pristine habitat could be linked with the particular conservation status and management of this biodiversity hotspot in the central highlands of Ethiopia. Our results suggest that strict legal enforcement is required to sustainably preserve Moorland Francolins and the ecological integrity of the entire Afroalpine biome. We recommend using camera traps in order to develop realistic and effective conservation and management strategies for rare, sensitive, cryptic, and ground-dwelling animals in the region.