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Manorina melanotis

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
ANIMALIA CHORDATA AVES PASSERIFORMES MELIPHAGIDAE

Scientific Name: Manorina melanotis
Species Authority: (Wilson, 1911)
Common Name(s):
English Black-eared Miner, Black–eared Miner
Taxonomic Notes: Manorina flavigula (Sibley and Monroe 1990, 1993) has been split into M. flavigula and M. melanotis following Christidis and Boles (1994).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered B1ab(ii,iii,iv,v); C2a(i,ii) ver 3.1
Year Published: 2013
Date Assessed: 2013-11-01
Assessor(s): BirdLife International
Reviewer(s): Butchart, S.
Contributor(s): Clarke, R.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Benstead, P., Garnett, S., McClellan, R., Taylor, J., Allinson, T & Symes, A.
Justification:
This species has a very small range and very small breeding population which is thought to be in decline, and is therefore classified as Endangered. If present intensive conservation efforts are unable to stop the extirpation of the tiny subpopulations, then the species will be uplisted to Critically Endangered.

History:
2012 Endangered

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: Manorina melanotis is endemic to the Murray Mallee region of South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales, Australia, and is thought to have been distributed throughout most of this region prior to European settlement (Clarke 2007). Range and numbers declined dramatically during the 1990s. In 1995, it was reported that just 28 birds were known in the wild, in north-west Victoria. Searches for the species in South Australia during the 1980s and New South Wales in 1993 were unsuccessful in locating the species (Clarke 2007). Conservation measures have since assisted the species's recovery. Extensive surveys during 2000-2002 found that the Riverland Biosphere Reserve (formerly the Bookmark Biosphere Reserve) in South Australia supported c.3,750 individuals, although the effective population size was only 390 (210-726) due to a skewed sex ratio (adults: 1 female: 1.81 males) and the species's complex social organisation (Clarke et al. 2005). This represented over 95% of the species's total effective population. These surveys were conducted during an upward population fluctuation (Clarke et al. 2005), following a series of good seasons, and the population may now stand at the lower end of these estimates owing to a drought in the region and a fire in 2006 (R. Clarke in litt. 2007). A smaller population of 53 (32-85) colonies of pure and hybrid birds (from interbreeding with the Yellow-throated Miner M. flavigula) persists in the Murray Sunset National Park and a number of other small scattered colonies exist at Scotia Sanctuary and Tarawi Nature Reserve in western New South Wales, and Bronzewing Flora and Fauna Reserve in northwestern Victoria (Baker-Gabb 2007). Only those in Riverland and Murray-Sunset are now considered sufficiently pure to be worth conserving (D. Baker- Gabb pers. comm.).

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

Population [top]

Population: Despite the Riverland Biosphere Reserve (formerly the Bookmark Biosphere Reserve) supporting an estimated 3,760 individuals, this is thought to equate to an effective population size of only 390 (210-726) mature individuals owing to a skewed sex ratio and a complex social organisation (Clarke et al. 2005). This population represents over 95% of the total effective population, hence, given the broad confidence intervals the population is probably best estimated to fall within the band 250-1,000 mature individuals. The surveys for the estimates by Clarke et al. (2005) were carried out following a series of good breeding seasons, and the population may now stand at the lower end of the estimates owing to a drought in the region (R. Clarke in litt. 2007). Garnett et al. (2011) suggest a total population of 500 mature individuals.
Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: The species occupies semi-arid mallee habitats, that is, eucalyptus woodland in which individual trees are multi-stemmed from ground level and seldom taller than 10 m (Clarke et al. 2005). Densities are highest in areas containing mallee-Triodia associations, or mallee with an open understorey, situated at least 2 km from clearings that exceed 100 ha (Clarke et al. 2005), that has not been heavily grazed or burnt for 45 years. The species occupies mallee that has remained unburnt for at least 20 years (Clarke 2007), but it is unknown whether there is a maximum age after burning when habitat becomes unsuitable. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that mallee unburnt for at least 150 years (becoming park-like open woodland) is only occupied by M. flavigula. The required area of intact mallee for a viable population may exceed 13,000 ha (Clarke et al. 2005). The species's distribution in Victoria is positively correlated with stable dunefields with a relatively high loam level, amount of decorticating bark (from which it obtains much of its insect food), tree density, stem density, canopy cover and litter cover. The presence of a mosaic of burn types may have facilitated the genetic isolation of the species from M. flavigula. Populations can breed continuously for over 12 months given favourable conditions such as periods of above average rainfall (Clarke et al. 2005). A study of one colony found that 81.8% of females and only 13.9% of males bred per season (E. Moysey per Clarke et al. 2005). It is a cooperative breeder with up to 13 helpers, mostly males, assisting the nest of a breeding pair (E. Moysey per Clarke et al. 2005). Colonies may wander over areas of 8-10 km2 in the non-breeding season, although they show high breeding-site fidelity (Clarke 2007). Their diet consists of invertebrates and lerp and also nectar.

Systems: Terrestrial

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The fundamental reason for its decline is the clearance of the majority of favourable habitat. Although European settlers reached the Murray Mallee region in 1860s, it was not until the early 20th century that widespread clearing for cropping and pasture began, and in the 1930s pastoralists dug dams and drains and cleared vegetation to increase water flow (Clarke 2007). This has resulted in displacement of M. melanotis in habitat remnants by M. flavigula, and interbreeding between the two species is now the greatest threat to M. melanotis. The purity of the Riverland Biosphere Reserve colony is only maintained through active removal of hybrids, while both the Murray-Sunset colonies have Yellow-throated Miner among them. Recent introgression is particularly evident in isolated colonies that occur in small areas of remnant habitat (Clarke et al. 2005). A study of specimens of M. melanotis and M. flavigula from museums world wide, suggests that hybridisation increased markedly around the middle of the 20th century as dam construction and mallee clearance further increased (Clarke 2007). Isolated colonies have a low rate of recruitment, either as a result of elevated rates of nest-predation or as a result of emigration from the natal colony. Much remaining habitat in Victoria and New South Wales has been burnt within the last 25 years. The populations at Riverland Biosphere Reserve (formerly the Bookmark Biosphere Reserve) and Murray Sunset National Park are at high risk of extinction from large-scale wildfire (Clarke et al. 2005). A single large fire in Murray Sunset NP rendered over half of the remaining prime habitat unsuitable for the species between 1980 and 1990 (Clarke et al. 2005), and habitat fragmentation now means that fires can burn whole reserves (Clarke et al. 2005). A fire in the Riverland Biosphere Reserve in late November and early December 2006 burnt 115,000 ha of mallee habitat, including much of the core area for the species and reducing the area of available habitat for the species by about a third, or possibly more, but creating a natural fire break for unburnt areas (R. Clarke in litt. 2007). The modern ability to suppress fires has likely resulted in a reduction in the proportion of fires at a moderate scale (100 ha - 10,000 ha), which tend to burn at a variety of intensities providing patchiness and fire refuges (Clarke et al. 2005). The species is thought to be prone to fluctuations in response to variable climatic conditions, with extended periods of drought limiting breeding and periods of above average rainfall promoting extended breeding (R. Boulton per Clarke et al. 2005); observations suggest the average change in colony size could be c.50% either way (Clarke et al. 2005).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Conservation Actions Underway
In reaction to the species's very low numbers in the mid-1990s, a colony of seven males and two females was taken into captivity in order to establish a captive breeding colony (Clarke 2007). Management actions completed or underway include genetic studies, regular surveys and monitoring, the study of habitat preference in Victoria, the purchase of leases within Riverland Biosphere Reserve, the adoption of a policy of rapid fire suppression within mallee in Victoria and South Australia, research into reproductive biology and ecology, establishment of a captive population, colony translocations, generation of community support and the establishment of a recovery team (Clarke et al. 2002). The threat of M. flavigula is tackled by the closure and revegetation of dams, and strategic removal of colonies (Clarke 2007). Between 1996 and 2002 intensive field studies located a previously unknown population and a number of isolated colonies throughout the species's historic range (Clarke et al. 2005). These searches identified what is now known to be the largest population of the species, in the Riverland Biosphere Reserve (Clarke et al. 2005). In 2003, 45 captive reared birds were released in the Bronzewing Flora and Fauna reserve, Victoria, and unsuccessful breeding attempts occurred within days of release (Clarke 2004). In 2005, surveys revealed that unsuccessful breeding attempts were still taking place amongst at least 11 surviving captive-reared birds and other unringed birds, and observations suggested that successful breeding had occurred, with a possible offspring from a previous nest acting as a helper (Clarke 2006). A Black-eared Miner Recovery Team has been formed.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Study rate and mechanisms for genetic introgression. Determine and monitor habitat quality. Increase number and quality of colonies in Victoria. Develop and test a population viability model. Total suppression of fires to increase the carrying capacity of protected areas (Clarke et al. 2005). Ensure habitat protection (Clarke et al. 2005). Continue translocation efforts (Clarke et al. 2005) and re-establish a successful captive breeding programme. Consider strategy of limiting the spread of wildfire at key sites, especially in long unburnt areas that will become suitable over the next two decades (Clarke et al. 2005).


Citation: BirdLife International 2013. Manorina melanotis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 23 August 2014.
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