Rock Partridge Alectoris graeca a good candidate for an umbrella species in rocky mountains in Italy

Rippa D., Caliendo M.F., Fusco L., Zaccara A.T., Valore M., Fulgione D.

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The umbrella concept is often applied in conservation management but as yet has rarely been tested empirically. Alectoris graeca is endemic in Europe, occurring only in the Balkans, the Alps and the Apennine Italian mountains. This species could be considered a good example of an umbrella species, that is one whose presence can imply broader biodiversity interest. Its European breeding population is relatively small and has undergone a large decline since about 1950 having suffered from habitat fragmentation and loss. The current approach for maintaining viable populations supports management of the species’ habitat. We suggest that this conservation approach for the single species can also favor some other sympatric bird species and biodiversity in general. During 2004-2006, Rock Partridge and its companion bird community were censused in nine study areas from Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park (Southern Italy). The study area consisted of dry and open rocky mountain with grassy patches and low scrubs from 1000 to 1900 m a.s.l. The classifcation of each site using a model of habitat suitability (including scores for various environmental traits) highlighted some signifcant relationships between Rock Partridge presence / abundance and suitable habitat on the other side. The species was present in seven out of nine study areas, where the suitability was optimal or good; in the remaining two areas we found a lower value of suitability. In the seven positive sites we also found the highest values of species richness of mountain bird community, ranging from 31 to 62 species: species richness values appeared to be positively correlated with habitat suitability scores. We suggest that Rock Partridge may be considered as a good candidate as an umbrella species, and in appropriate areas therefore be a useful tool for conservation of wildlife in Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park, specifcally, and potentially elsewhere within the species’ range.