Sex-specific habitat use by a lekking bustard: Conservation implications for the critically endangered Bengal Florican (Houbaropsis bengalensis) in an intensifying agroecosystem

Thomas N. E. Gray, Hong Chamnan, Nigel J. Collar, Paul M. Dolman

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22 Citations (Scopus)


Understanding sexual differences in habitat use is important for effective conservation management, particularly with regard to polygynous species, the sexes of which may differ in their responses to land-use change. We examined sex-specific habitat use in the critically endangered Bengal Florican (Houbaropsis bengalensis), a polygynous bustard whose most important population occurs in traditionally farmed grasslands in the Tonle Sap floodplain, Cambodia. This habitat is undergoing rapid conversion to intensive dry-season rice production. Using radiotelemetry, we compared male and female breeding-season habitat selection and home-range sizes and configurations. The sexes differed in their spatial use of the lek and their ability to utilize anthropogenic habitat features. Both sexes avoided intensive dry-season rice fields. Males selected habitats related to low-intensity human activity, chiefly burned grassland, whereas females selected unburned grassland but also used unburned, uncultivated grassland in dry-season rice head-ponds. These differences reflect the species' breeding system, with males using open areas for display and females selecting cover. Our findings demonstrate the importance of the landscape heterogeneity associated with traditional human activity in maintaining the habitat mosaics necessary for the contrasting breeding-season requirements of male and female Bengal Floricans. Two-thirds of tagged females may have left the lek to nest elsewhere, which suggests that protecting habitat in which males display will not be a sufficient conservation response for such lekking species. Both sexes are detrimentally affected by agricultural intensification within the Tonle Sap, and encouragement of industrial rice production to spare more "natural" habitats elsewhere is likely to be counterproductive for this globally threatened flagship species.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)112-122
Number of pages11
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2009

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