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Megapodius pritchardii

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
ANIMALIA CHORDATA AVES GALLIFORMES MEGAPODIIDAE

Scientific Name: Megapodius pritchardii
Species Authority: Gray, 1864
Common Name(s):
English Tongan Scrubfowl, Polynesian Scrubfowl, Niaufoou Scrubfowl, Tongan Megapode, Nevafou Megapode

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered B1ab(v) ver 3.1
Year Published: 2012
Date Assessed: 2012-05-01
Assessor(s): BirdLife International
Reviewer(s): Butchart, S. & Symes, A.
Contributor(s): Dekker, R., Göth, A., Matevalea, C., Watling, D. & Fakaosi, D.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Derhé, M., Keane, A., Mahood, S., O'Brien, A., Stattersfield, A.
Justification:
This species is classified as Endangered because it has a very small population restricted to two tiny islands. Although the population on Fonualei, where it was recently introduced, is likely to be stable the population on Niuafo'ou is suspected to be undergoing a continuing decline, owing to egg harvesting and predation (Baker et al. in press). If a population on the larger island of Late could also be established, then downlisting to Vulnerable may be warranted.

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: Megapodius pritchardii is endemic to Tonga where although fossil evidence indicates it was once widespread, there is now only a remnant population on the island of Niuafo'ou and a re-introduced population on Fonualei. On Niuafo'ou it is concentrated around the inner slopes of the caldera (a large sunken water- and forest-filled crater formed after volcanic activity) and on two cat-free islets in the crater lake. In 1979, the population was estimated at 820 adults (Todd 1983) and, in 1991-1993, at 188-235 pairs occupying 641 ha of 719 ha of suitable habitat (Göth and Vogel 1995). This represents 52-65% of possible carrying capacity, assuming an average of 0.5 pairs per ha (Göth and Vogel 1995). Comparisons between individual sites and interviews with local people had strongly suggested an overall decline (Göth and Vogel 1995). Introductions to the islands of Late and Fonualei have been carried out. A 2003 survey on Fonualei found the species to be common, comprising an estimated 300-500 adult individuals (Watling 2004), but there is no evidence of its continued existence on Late (R. W. R. J. Dekker in litt. 2003, R. Dekker in litt. 2004). A survey in September 2010 revealed that the population on Niuafo'ou has undergone a dramatic decline in the number of nests at all known nesting grounds, and is now confined to small areas within the caldera. Historically, 27 nests were known from 13 different sites across Niuafo'ou (Goeth unpublished data, in Tilmouth 2010), but during the September 2010 survey only 10 active nests at 7 sites were found (Lloyd et al. 2011. The 2010 survey also failed to uncover any new nesting grounds since the research of Göth and Vogel (1995, 1997).

Countries:
Native:
Tonga
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: The population is estimated to number 450-650 mature individuals, roughly equivalent to 680-970 individuals in total (R. Dekker in litt. 2003).
Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: It inhabits broadleaved forest ranging from secondary to mature (Göth and Vogel 1995), but needs areas with little ground cover where it can forage in leaf-litter and top soil; mainly for insects and worms, but also small reptiles, seeds and small fruit (Rinke et al. 1993). It uses hot volcanic ash to incubate its eggs, a habit which confines its nesting sites to areas of loose soil close to vents, either in forest or in open ash, or beaches of crater lakes (Todd 1983).

Systems: Terrestrial; Freshwater; Marine

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): A study in 1993 revealed that all nesting sites on Niuafo'ou were harvested with at least 50% of all eggs laid being collected or destroyed (Göth and Vogel 1995). However, egg collecting appears to have decline markedly since 1993 (Lloyd 2011) and so the reason for the recent decline in the number of nest sites is currently unknown. One possibility is that natural shifts in geothermal activity may have caused changes in soil temperature profiles that would inhibit successful incubation of eggs (Tilmouth 2010). Adults are also hunted on a small scale, and both adults and chicks are predated by feral cats and dogs, while pigs almost certainly destroy suitable foraging habitat for young birds (Lloyd 2011) and may compete for food (Göth and Vogel 1995). Fonualei is uninhabited so the threats of hunting and human disturbance are less immediate for the reintroduced population there (R. Dekker in litt. 2004).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Conservation Actions Underway
It is legally protected, although in practice there is no enforcement. From 1991 to 1993, 60 eggs were buried at volcanically heated sites on Late (Göth and Vogel 1995), and an additional 35 eggs and chicks were transferred to Fonualei (Rinke 1994), both uninhabited and rarely visited by humans. Breeding was successful on Fonualei and the population appears to be established (R. W. R. J. Dekker in litt. 2003, C. Matevalea verbally 1999, Watling 2004), but surveys suggest the translocation failed on Late (R. Dekker in litt. 2004, A. Göth in litt. 2004). A Conservation Strategy for the species was published in 2011 by the World Pheasant Association and the Tonga Community Development Trust (Lloyd et al. 2011) which includes a series of community-based conservation initiatives.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Continue long-term monitoring of the nesting grounds on Niuafo'ou. Examine soil temperature and geothermal activity on Niuafo'ou. Protect the three crater lake islets as nature reserves, minimise disturbance and regularly survey for introduced predators. On Niuafo'ou, enforce the ban on hunting and egg-collecting or restrict it, preferably through a council of residents endowed with necessary powers. Assess the feasibility of eradicating feral cats and dogs from Niuafo'ou. Investigate obtaining Reserve status for Fonualei.


Citation: BirdLife International 2012. Megapodius pritchardii. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 18 December 2014.
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