Conservation biology of the endangered St. Helena Plover Charadrius sanctaehelenae

  • Fiona Burns

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Oceanic islands contribute significantly to global biodiversity due to the high levels of endemism they exhibit. Many island species have, however, become extinct following the arrival of humans, and many others remain threatened. This thesis focuses on one of these threatened island species; the St. Helena Plover, Charadrius sanctaehelenae.The objectives of my PhD were threefold: to understand the current status of the St. Helena Plover, to investigate aspects of its environment that may threaten its persistence, and to compare conservation options. Observational data were used to understand how variation in the environment influences the plover’s distribution and demography. This information was used to inform a controlled trial investigating the use of nest exclosures as a way to improve productivity. New understanding of the species’ population ecology was brought together to create a stochastic meta-population model. This model was used to understand the influence of demographic and life history parameters on the population growth rate and to compare alternative conservation options.Indicators of the future status of the St. Helena Plover population appear mixed; with numbers predicted to decline slowly, but with a high chance of species persistence over the timeframe simulated, 50 years. Nest predation by introduced species, predominately cats, was predicted to suppress nest survival and bring productivity at some sites below that required for population stability. The use of nest exclosures did not increase nest survival and led to a decrease in adult survival. Habitat characteristics were more important in determining the species distribution than influencing its demography. The plovers appeared to select breeding habitat to maximise the visibility from the nest and the accessibility of invertebrate prey. Simulations suggested that predator control would have a large beneficial effect on the population growth rate and that concurrent habitat improvement would have greater than additive benefits. Targets for conservation management include Deadwood Plain; predator control as this key site was predicted to lead to the largest increase in the overall population growth rate, and Man and Horse; there may be potential at this site to increase adult survival, which was found to be the most influential demographic parameter.
Date of Award1 Jun 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorTamas Szekely (Supervisor)

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