Behavioural thermoregulation and climatic range restriction in the globally threatened Ethiopian Bush-crow Zavattariornis stresemanni

Donald, PF 
Jones, SEI 
Collar, NJ 
Deng, J 

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Climate may influence the distribution and abundance of a species through a number of demographic and ecological processes, but the proximate drivers of such responses are only recently being identified. The Ethiopian Bush-crow Zavattariornis stresemanni is a corvid that is restricted to a small region of southern Ethiopia. It is classified as Endangered in the IUCN Red List of globally-threatened species. Previous work suggested that this range restriction is almost perfectly defined by a climate envelope that is cooler than surrounding areas, but the proximate mechanism remains unexplained. The heavily altered habitats which the species inhabits are widespread across Africa, and recent work has shown that the Bush-crow is behaviourally adaptable and has a catholic diet. We assess whether its enigmatic distribution can be explained by behavioural responses to the higher temperatures that surround its current range. Using environmental niche models and field observations of thermally-mediated behaviour, we compare the range restriction and behavioural thermoregulation of the Ethiopian Bush-crow (a starling-like corvid) with those of two sympatric control species that are similar in size and ecology, but have much larger ranges that include hotter environments. The White-crowned Starling Lamprotornis albicapillus and Superb Starling L. superbus occupy similar habitats to the Ethiopian Bush-crow and all three frequently forage together. We found that the Bush-crow’s range is limited primarily by temperature, with a secondary effect of dry season rainfall, whereas the ranges of the two starling species are better predicted by wet season rainfall alone. Bush-crows exhibited panting behaviour and moved into the shade of trees at significantly lower ambient temperatures than did the starlings, and their food intake declined more steeply with increasing temperature. These results suggest that the Bush-crow’s limited geographical range reflects an inability to cope with higher temperatures. This suggests that a species’ response to climate change might not be easily predicted by its ecological generalism, and may represent an inherited debt from its evolutionary history.

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bioclimate, climate, distribution, Ethiopia, foraging behaviour, species distribution modelling, temperature
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NERC (1210186)