Hunting or habitat? Drivers of waterbird abundance and community structure in agricultural wetlands of southern India
The relative impacts of hunting and habitat on waterbird community were studied in agricultural wetlands of southern India. We surveyed wetlands to document waterbird community, and interviewed hunters to document hunting intensity, targeted species, and the motivations for hunting. Our results show that hunting leads to drastic declines in waterbird diversity and numbers, and skew the community towards smaller species. Hunting intensity, water spread, and vegetation cover were the three most important determinants of waterbird abundance and community structure. Species richness, density of piscivorous species, and medium-sized species (31–65 cm) were most affected by hunting. Out of 53 species recorded, 47 were hunted, with a preference for larger birds. Although illegal, hunting has increased in recent years and is driven by market demand. This challenges the widely held belief that waterbird hunting in India is a low intensity, subsistence activity, and undermines the importance of agricultural wetlands in waterbird conservation.
KeywordsAvifauna Community structure Illegal hunting Tamil Nadu Waterbird
The authors thank the Department of Science and Technology (DST) (Government of India), the International Crane Foundation (ICF) (via Program SarusScape), the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) (via the Cranes and Wetlands Programme) and the Foundation for Ecological Research, Advocacy and Learning (FERAL) for supporting this project through the National Center for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Center for Wildlife Studies (CWS) and Wildlife Conservation Society – India Program (WCS – India). The authors further thank J. Ratnam and N. Lakshminarayanan for commenting on an earlier draft of the manuscript; and C. Gurusrikar for providing administrative support. The authors also thank four anonymous reviewers for providing us feedback to improve the manuscript. The assistance provided by H.R. Arun, S.A. Varsha, A N. Joshi, B.B. Shetty, S. Kishore, B. Nandan, D. Naveen, B.V. Nitesh, S. Izlancherian, S. Sivakumar, V. Babu, and V. Raj is gratefully acknowledged.
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