Conservation biology of wetland birds: breeding ecology, spatial analyses and genetic differentiation

  • Mohammed Almalki

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Conservation biology uses various tools including spatial ecology and molecular ecology to provide better understanding of species that can be used to support and design effective conservation strategies. Many wetland bird species in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) are poorly known, and we lack detailed knowledge about their breeding ecology, spatial distribution and genetic differentiation. The first objective of my PhD research was to investigate the parental behaviour of an understudied endemic shorebird to the Middle East, the Crab Plover Dromas ardeola to record parental behaviour at the burrows over a 24-hour period. Since adult males and females look identical, I used molecular markers for sex determination. Molecular sexing was conducted using two different markers applied for 66 Crab Plover blood samples. I demonstrated that both males and females fed chicks, and that females brought food to chicks more frequently than did males (Chapter 2). The second objective was to investigate the breeding distribution of Crab Plovers along the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia and to compare the results with the last comprehensive survey conducted in 1996. I showed that the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia has approximately 35% of the Arabian breeding population of Crab Plovers. The major threats to this species along the Red Sea coast were also discussed (Chapter 3). The third objective was to model the spatial distribution of 22 wetland bird species along the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia using maximum entropy (MaxEnt) based on occurrence data and 10 environmental variables and then to determine sites with high species richness. This analysis identified 17 areas predicted to be suitable for supporting high species richness. I recommended using this model of areas with high wetland bird species richness as a guide for monitoring and surveys to inform conservation strategies in the Red Sea region of the KSA (Chapter 4). The fourth objective was to use microsatellite markers to investigate the genetics and morphometric differentiations of a wide-spread shorebird species, the Kentish Plover, between islands and mainland sites. The main result of the latter investigation was that breeding populations are genetically and morphometrically differentiated between mainland sites and islands, as well as between different archipelagos. This finding calls for a reconsideration of the current conservation status of this species (Chapter 5). Finally, my PhD research has generated several research lines that warrant further investigation (Chapter 6).
Date of Award31 May 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SponsorsRoyal Embassy of Saudi Arabia
SupervisorTamas Szekely (Supervisor)

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