Hostname: page-component-77c89778f8-7drxs Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-20T23:14:16.779Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Population status, habitat preference and distribution of Bristled Grassbird Chaetornis striata in Bangladesh

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 August 2022

Sayam U. Chowdhury*
Affiliation:
Conservation Science Group, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, UK
Mohammod Foysal
Affiliation:
16/C, Tallabag, Sobhanbag, Dhaka – 1207, Bangladesh
Nazim Uddin Khan
Affiliation:
16/C, Tallabag, Sobhanbag, Dhaka – 1207, Bangladesh
Sakib Ahmed
Affiliation:
16/C, Tallabag, Sobhanbag, Dhaka – 1207, Bangladesh
M. Abdullah Abu Diyan
Affiliation:
16/C, Tallabag, Sobhanbag, Dhaka – 1207, Bangladesh
*
*Author for correspondence: Sayam U. Chowdhury, Email: sayam_uc@yahoo.com
Rights & Permissions [Opens in a new window]

Summary

The little-known Bristled Grassbird Chaetornis striata is thought to be declining due to the loss of grassland habitats throughout its range, and is currently classified as globally ‘Vulnerable’. In order to investigate the current status and possible causes of the presumed decline, we assessed population density of Bristled Grassbird in Padma and Jamuna river systems of Bangladesh. The study was conducted during the breeding seasons of the Bristled Grassbird in April and May in 2016–2019, using distance sampling and habitat suitability modelling. We also examined habitat preferences and responses to environmental changes based on vegetation structure and habitat modifications at point count locations. We detected a total of 39 birds with a mean group size of 1.44 individuals. We estimated 4.52 (95% CI: 2.65–7.73) individuals per km2 with an encounter rate of 1.48 detections per point count station and 341.15 birds within the study area. Our habitat suitability model projected a total of 167.41 km2 of suitable habitat and a total of 756.7 birds in floodplain grasslands of Padma and Jamuna river systems. The Bristled Grassbird was positively associated with grass height and grass density with 92.31% of 39 detections at Saccharum spontaneum dominated grasslands. We did not find a significant effect on Bristled Grassbird detections with increasing human activities, although the detection rate decreased linearly with increasing agricultural intervention and grass harvesting. These findings indicate that the Bristled Grassbird is more widely distributed throughout Bangladesh, and may be less vulnerable to grassland modifications, than previously thought.

Type
Research Article
Creative Commons
Creative Common License - CCCreative Common License - BY
This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution and reproduction, provided the original article is properly cited.
Copyright
© The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of BirdLife International

Introduction

Grasslands are one of the most threatened ecosystems in the world, under increasing pressure from various human activities and especially vulnerable to conversion into agricultural lands. Moreover, grasslands are one of the least protected biomes globally with only 4.5% of the temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands are under the protected area system (Brooks et al. Reference Brooks, Da Fonseca and Rodrigues2004) and much less in Asia (BirdLife International 2001). This has resulted in the loss of numerous grassland dependent species (White et al. Reference White, Murray, Rohweder, Prince and Thompson2000, Ceballos et al. Reference Ceballos, Davidson, List, Pacheco, Manzano-Fischer, Santos-Barrera and Cruzado2010, Haddad et al. Reference Haddad, Brudvig, Clobert, Davies, Gonzalez, Holt, Lovejoy, Sexton, Austin, Collins and Cook2015) including the ‘Critically Endangered’ Bengal Florican Houbaropsis bengalensis and other bustards in Asia (Collar et al. Reference Collar, Baral, Batbayer, Bhardwaj, Brahma, Burnside, Choudhury, Combreau, Dolman, Donald, Dutta, Gadhavi, Gore, Goroshko, Hong, Jather, Jha, Jhala, Koshkin, Lahkar, Liu, Mahood, Morales, Narwade, Natsagdorj, Nefedov, Silva, Thakuri, Wang, Zhang and Kessler2017). It is believed that one of the silent victims of the depleting grassland ecosystems of Asia (BirdLife International 2001) is the Bristled Grassbird Chaetornis striata. This South Asian endemic is thought to be undergoing a rapid population decline due to the loss of dense floodplain grassland habitats, and is listed as globally ‘Vulnerable’ (BirdLife International 2019). The species is likely to face severe threats in the near future, as floodplain grasslands continue to be converted and degraded throughout its range in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan (del Hoyo et al. Reference del Hoyo, Elliott and Christie2006, Baral et al. Reference Baral, Wattel, Brewin and Ormerod2013, BirdLife International 2019, Collar et al. Reference Collar, Baral, Batbayer, Bhardwaj, Brahma, Burnside, Choudhury, Combreau, Dolman, Donald, Dutta, Gadhavi, Gore, Goroshko, Hong, Jather, Jha, Jhala, Koshkin, Lahkar, Liu, Mahood, Morales, Narwade, Natsagdorj, Nefedov, Silva, Thakuri, Wang, Zhang and Kessler2017). The current global population of the Bristled Grassbird is estimated to be 3,500–15,000 individuals, although population size is difficult to assess because the species often remains undetected owing to its secretive behaviour during the non-breeding season, and therefore it is likely to be overlooked outside its breeding seasons and known areas (Singh and Buckingham Reference Singh and Buckingham2015, Baral et al. Reference Baral, Wattel, Brewin and Ormerod2013, BirdLife International 2019).

In Bangladesh, the species was listed as formerly resident with only two records from the grasslands of Dhaka and Khulna Divisions in late 19th and mid 20th centuries (Siddiqui et al. Reference Siddiqui, Islam, Kabir, Ahmad, Ahmed, Rahman, Haque, Ahmed, Begum, Hasan, Khondker and Rahman2008). It was rediscovered after more than 100 years at Tanguar Haor in north-east Bangladesh in April 2014 (Haque and Tareq Reference Haque and Tareq2014) and is currently listed as nationally ‘Endangered’ (IUCN Bangladesh 2015). Subsequent visits to this seasonal freshwater wetland during the breeding season have resulted in regular records including documentation of nesting activity (Khan et al. Reference Khan, Khan, Ahmed and Shovon2015, S. U. Chowdhury pers. obs. 2018). Between 2014 and 2016, the Bristled Grassbird was regularly seen and photographed in April–May by local birdwatchers in riverine floodplain grasslands along the Padma river in Rajshahi (12 records) and Dhaka (one record) Divisions (Khan et al. Reference Khan, Khan, Ahmed and Shovon2015, Chowdhury Reference Chowdhury2016, BirdLife International 2019). The increasing number of active birdwatchers in Bangladesh aided by digital photography (Thompson et al. Reference Thompson, Chowdhury, Haque, Khan and Halder2014) and mobile phone sound recorders to document observations, as well as regular visits to the riverine grassland sites during the breeding season and availability of online references (e.g. xeno-canto, eBird) to identify Bristled Grassbird by its call may explain the recent growth in the number of sightings.

The Bristled Grassbird is a little-known species with only a few targeted studies (Baral et al. Reference Baral, Wattel, Brewin and Ormerod2013, Singh and Buckingham Reference Singh and Buckingham2015) and opportunistic observations (Heath and Thorns Reference Heath and Thorns1989, Arya Reference Arya2010, Haque and Tareq Reference Haque and Tareq2014, Khan et al. Reference Khan, Khan, Ahmed and Shovon2015, Krishnan Reference Krishnan, del Hoyo, Elliot, Sargatal, Christie and De Juana2021). Data on its population decline, information on ecology, population, distribution, local movement, and response to environmental changes remains scanty (Singh and Buckingham Reference Singh and Buckingham2015, BirdLife International 2019, Krishnan Reference Krishnan, del Hoyo, Elliot, Sargatal, Christie and De Juana2021). However, in order to construct long-term conservation and management strategies for threatened species, detailed understanding of these aspects is necessary, especially the way anthropogenic actions affect a species and how it responds to these perturbations (McKinney Reference McKinney1997, Woodroffe and Ginsberg Reference Woodroffe and Ginsberg1998, Purvis et al. Reference Purvis, Gittleman, Cowlishaw and Mace2000, Clavel et al. Reference Clavel, Julliard and Devictor2011).

In this study, we investigated the breeding population density of the Bristled Grassbird and estimated its population size in Bangladesh for the first time. We also identified key habitat characteristics during breeding and developed a habitat suitability model in order to target future survey and conservation efforts. Furthermore, we sought to determine how the Bristled Grassbird is responding to landscape modification arising from anthropogenic activities in riverine floodplain grasslands of Bangladesh and discuss the significance of our results for the conservation and management of this species.

Methods

Study area

Our study took place on the floodplain grasslands along the Padma and Jamuna rivers, the largest river systems in Bangladesh. The Jamuna River is 205 km long with an average width of 10 km (range 3–18 km), it is the main channel of the Brahmaputra river when it flows south out of India into Bangladesh. The 4–8 km wide and 120 km long Padma river is the downstream section of the Ganges (Islam Reference Islam2016). The alluvial channels and floodplains of both rivers are highly productive for agriculture and fisheries due to their dynamic hydrological system and nutrient-rich sediments that are annually deposited in the adjacent floodplains (Smith et al. Reference Smith, Haque, Hossain and Khan1998, Ashworth et al. Reference Ashworth, Best, Roden, Bristow and Klaassen2000). These floodplains support early successional tall grasses dominated by Saccharum spontaneum (Peet et al. Reference Peet, Watkinson, Bell and Sharma1999, Wegge et al. Reference Wegge, Shrestha and Moe2006).

Point counts

We conducted point counts at 51 locations spread across 10 sites along the Padma and Jamuna rivers of Bangladesh (Figure 1). These sites were systematically spaced across the two river systems, depending on accessibility, local logistics and availability of resources. Point counts were established across sites within the Upper and Lower Padma river (20 km apart) and the Jamuna river (85 km apart). As the survey sites were identified, point count stations were randomly spaced 500 m apart by placing the first point count station at a random starting point at a minimum 250 m from the edge of the river. Point count stations falling within habitats known to be unsuitable (disturbed grassland areas; Baral et al. Reference Baral, Wattel, Brewin and Ormerod2013, Singh and Buckingham Reference Singh and Buckingham2015, Krishnan Reference Krishnan, del Hoyo, Elliot, Sargatal, Christie and De Juana2021) were not excluded from point counts in order to determine habitat preference of Bristled Grassbird in riverine floodplain grasslands.

Figure 1. Projected potential distribution (black areas) of Bristled Grassbird in the Padma and Jamuna river systems in Bangladesh based on habitat suitability model (ISO Cluster classification), study sites (red squares) and point count stations of site 1 (white circles). Further details of each location are given in Table 1.

Table 1. Bristled Grassbird survey sites, area, number of point count (PC) stations and GPS coordinates of each site.

Bristled Grassbirds were counted during 10-min point counts after a 3-min settling down period upon arrival at a point count station. All counts were conducted between 05h45 and 14h00. We recorded all Bristled Grassbirds detected visually and acoustically within a radius of 250 m around the point count stations. We used a handheld GPS device to record location details of each point count station. Distances between the observer and Bristled Grassbirds were measured using a rangefinder and in some cases by a measuring tape. Each point count station was visited once over the whole three-year period between early April and early May in 2017–2019. The date of the counts can be a critical detection covariate due to change in behaviour of the target species as the breeding season progresses (Cornils et al. Reference Cornils, Riedl, Fricke, Katz and Schulze2015, Buckland et al. Reference Buckland, Oedekoven and Borchers2016). The Bristled Grassbird is highly active during the early stage of the breeding season when the males perform breeding courtship displays by flying and calling and females respond (Baral et al. Reference Baral, Wattel, Brewin and Ormerod2013, Singh and Buckingham Reference Singh and Buckingham2015, Krishnan Reference Krishnan, del Hoyo, Elliot, Sargatal, Christie and De Juana2021). Courtship behaviour declines over the course of the breeding season, thus affecting the detection probability (Buckland et al. Reference Buckland, Anderson, Burnham and Laake2005, Thomas et al. Reference Thomas, Buckland, Rexstad, Laake, Strindberg, Hedley and Burnham2010). We therefore conducted the surveys starting in the first week of April and ending in the first week of May.

Habitat variables and vegetation cover

Based on previous work on this (Singh and Buckingham Reference Singh and Buckingham2015, Baral et al. Reference Baral, Wattel, Brewin and Ormerod2013, Khan et al. Reference Khan, Khan, Ahmed and Shovon2015, Krishnan Reference Krishnan, del Hoyo, Elliot, Sargatal, Christie and De Juana2021) and related species such as the Striated Grassbird Megalurus palustris (Madge Reference Madge, Billerman, Bridwell and Rodewald2020), we recorded geographical and habitat variables that are known to influence Bristled Grassbird occurrence and abundance. Habitat variables such as distance to waterbodies (river, pool), bare sand, and human activities (agricultural interventions, livestock grazing, fire and grass harvesting) were recorded at each point count station.

Data were collected from three broad vegetation categories (grasses, shrubs, and trees), based on previous knowledge of the Bristled Grassbird’s ecology (Baral et al. Reference Baral, Wattel, Brewin and Ormerod2013, Khan et al. Reference Khan, Khan, Ahmed and Shovon2015, Singh and Buckingham Reference Singh and Buckingham2015). To determine the structure of the grassland vegetation, square quadrats were established at the centre of all point count stations (Rotenberry and Wiens Reference Rotenberry and Wiens1980, Klimeš Reference Klimeš2003, Winter et al. Reference Winter, Johnson and Shaffer2005). Species, density (number of shoots per quadrat) and average height of each grass (1m x 1m quadrats), shrub (5m x 5m quadrats) and tree (25m x 25m quadrats) were recorded (Erdelen Reference Erdelen1984, Winter et al. Reference Winter, Johnson and Shaffer2005, Godínez-Alvarez et al. Reference Godínez-Alvarez, Herrick, Mattocks, Toledo and Van Zee2009, Singh and Buckingham Reference Singh and Buckingham2015). All species at each quadrat were identified using a field guide (Hossain Reference Hossain2017), the number and height of each vegetation type was carefully recorded, and height was determined using measuring tapes. Percentage cover of each vegetation type was visually estimated using 1m x 1m quadrats for grasses, 5m x 5m for shrubs and 25m x 25m for trees (canopy cover) and categorized in different percentage bands (1 = 0–25% cover, 2 = 25–50%, 3 = 50–75% and 4 = 75–100%), following guidelines outlined in Bråkenhielm and Qinghong (Reference Bråkenhielm and Qinghong1995), Klimeš (Reference Klimeš2003) and Singh and Buckingham (Reference Singh and Buckingham2015).

Habitat suitability model and extrapolation of population size

We used unsupervised ISO Cluster classification in ENVI 5.3 (Congalton and Green Reference Congalton and Green2008, Phillips et al. Reference Phillips, Dudík, Elith, Graham, Lehmann, Leathwick and Ferrier2009) to determine distribution and area of potential grassland habitats for the Bristled Grassbird along the Padma and Jamuna river floodplains. A total of 30 points of Bristled Grassbird presence locations were used for ground truthing land cover classification (Gottschalk et al. Reference Gottschalk, Huettmann and Ehlers2005, Long et al. Reference Long, Zefania, Ffrench-Constant and Székely2008). This provided us with data on the area of total suitable habitat for Bristled Grassbird along Padma and Jamuna river systems. We then used this estimate of total area of suitable habitat and data on Bristled Grassbird density in our study area to estimate the total population size of the entire floodplain grasslands along the Padma and Jamuna river systems (Lauver et al. Reference Lauver, Busby and Whistler2002, Nikolakaki Reference Nikolakaki2004, Long et al. Reference Long, Zefania, Ffrench-Constant and Székely2008).

Threat assessment

We identified various factors that may have a direct or indirect effect on Bristled Grassbird and its habitats. We recorded ecological attributes of habitat fragmentation in a circle of 250 m radius around each point count station. We visually estimated alteration of grassland habitat through livestock grazing (presence or signs of livestock), grass harvesting by locals, agricultural interventions, and fire to clear grassland habitats.

Statistical analysis

We used distance sampling to estimate Bristled Grassbird density within our study areas, as distance sampling is a simple, effective, and widely used approach to estimate densities of biological populations in defined areas (Buckland et al. Reference Buckland, Anderson, Burnham, Laake, Borchers and Thomas2001, Reference Buckland, Oedekoven and Borchers2016, Cornils et al. Reference Cornils, Riedl, Fricke, Katz and Schulze2015). We used perpendicular distances between the Bristled Grassbird and point count stations in the ‘Distance’ package in R statistical software (R Development Core Team 2016) to determine density of Bristled Grassbird at each site and total population of Bristled Grassbird within our study area. We started the analysis with a truncation of the data at a distance of 100 m from the point count stations and less than 5% detections were beyond 100 m (Cornils et al. Reference Cornils, Riedl, Fricke, Katz and Schulze2015, Buckland et al. Reference Buckland, Anderson, Burnham, Laake, Borchers and Thomas2001). We used three models in the ‘Distance’ package of R software, these were (i) half-normal with simple polynomial adjustment, (ii) uniform with cosine adjustment, and (iii) hazard-rate with simple polynomial adjustment (Buckland et al. Reference Buckland, Anderson, Burnham, Laake, Borchers and Thomas2001, Thomas et al. Reference Thomas, Buckland, Rexstad, Laake, Strindberg, Hedley and Burnham2010). We used Akaike information criterion (AIC), AICC weights and visual evaluation of quantile-quantile plots to select the model that best fit our data as these are widely used and a simple approach to determine the most suitable model (Buckland et al. Reference Buckland, Anderson, Burnham and Laake2005, Reference Buckland, Oedekoven and Borchers2016, Thomas et al. Reference Thomas, Buckland, Rexstad, Laake, Strindberg, Hedley and Burnham2010).

To evaluate the effects of habitat variables, vegetation cover and human activities on the presence of Bristled Grassbird, we fitted generalised liner models (GLMs) in which presence/absence of Bristled Grassbird in a point count station was the binary dependent variable with binomial error distribution and logit link.

Results

Distribution, population density and estimate

Bristled Grassbird was present at all surveyed sites, providing evidence of its occurrence throughout riverine floodplain grasslands of the Padma and Jamuna river systems (Figure 1). A total of 39 individuals were recorded during distance sampling between 2017 and 2019 with mean group size of 1.44 birds and encounter rate of 1.48 birds per point count station. Bristled Grassbirds were detected 27 times, at a distance of up to 102 m. Birds were usually (86.04%) detected perched on tall grasses but also circling overhead while calling. After excluding six (13.95%) detections of aerial birds and truncation at 100 m (which excluded only one observation), 27 detections were used for distance sampling analysis (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Histogram (left column) of detection distances for point count surveys with corresponding fit to model predicting the detection probability with increasing distance from the point count stations using a truncation at 100 m distance. The detection curve, corresponding QQ-plot (right column) with goodness of fit test results are predicted by Hazard-rate key function model.

The model with the lowest AIC value (Table 2) using Hazard-rate key function was identified as the best-fit model. The model estimated 4.52 (95% CI: 2.65–7.73) individuals per km2 with an encounter rate of 1.48 detections per point count station and population estimate of 341.15 (95% CI: 184.10–536.76) birds within the study area.

Table 2. Results of distance sampling of three different models used to estimate density (individual/km2) of Bristled Grassbird along large rivers of Bangladesh, with Akaike information criterion (AIC) values, AICC weights of each model, encounter rate (ER) per point count station, standard error (SE), coefficient of variation (CV), 95% confidence interval (CI) and degrees of freedom (df).

Results of an unsupervised ISO Cluster classification model estimated a total of 167.41 km2 of suitable habitat for Bristled Grassbird along the Padma and Jamuna river systems (Figure 1). Therefore, a mean of 756.7 (CI: 443–1,294) Bristled Grassbirds are estimated to occur in grasslands of the Padma and Jamuna river systems.

Habitat preference

We recorded a total of five grass, seven shrub and six tree species in our 51 vegetation plots (Table S1 in the online supplementary material). Almost all (92.31%) of the 39 detections were in Saccharum spontaneum-dominated grasslands (χ2 = 52.51, df = 1, P < 0.001) and only 7.39% were detected at Tamarix dioica-dominated vegetation. Logistic regression for effects on the presence of the Bristled Grassbird indicated a significant positive effect (r2 = 0.52, F = 11.46, P < 0.001) of grass height and density (Table 3), where Bristled Grassbird mainly occurred in locations with tall grass (1.35 ± 0.35 m; n = 27) and high grass density (86.96 ± 72.49) (Figure 3), compared to short (0.48 ± 0.33 m; n = 24) and low grass density (13.83 ± 11.40) at locations without the species. Similarly, Bristled Grassbird detection rate was negatively associated with tree density, tree height and shrub density (Table 3). Four habitat variables including distances from sand, river, water, and human did not show a significant effect (r2 = 0.04, F = 0.22, P = 0.92) on Bristled Grassbird detections (Table 3).

Table 3. Results of Generalised Liner Models (GLMs) testing for the effect of habitat variables, vegetation height, vegetation density and human activities on presence of Bristled Grassbird during breeding season across all sites of the study area. Significant effects are indicated in bold.

Figure 3. Linear regression indicating significant positive correlations between Bristled Grassbird abundance and grass density (A), grass cover (B) and grass height (C), and weak relationship with shrub density (D), cover (E) and height (F).

Effect of human disturbance

Human activities such as agriculture, grass harvesting, livestock grazing, and fire did not show a significant effect on Bristled Grassbird detections (Figure 4). However, detection rate decreased linearly with increasing agricultural intervention (χ2 = 24.66, df = 28, P = 0.64) and grass harvesting (χ2 = 24.30, df = 24, P = 0.44), but moderately with increasing grazing (χ2 = 15.41, df = 20, P = 0.67) and fire (χ2 = 0.79, df = 2, P = 0.75).

Figure 4. Linear regression showing effect of agricultural interventions (A), grass harvesting (B) and livestock grazing (C) on the abundance of Bristled Grassbird at point count stations.

Discussion

Density and population estimate

Our study demonstrates that the Padma and Jamuna floodplain grasslands with 4.52 (95% CI: 2.65–7.73) birds per km2 support a moderate density and potentially a significant part of the Bristled Grassbird’s global population, considering the availability of vast tracts of Saccharum spontaneum-dominated floodplain grasslands along both large rivers of Bangladesh (Sarker at al. Reference Sarker, Huque, Alam and Koudstaal2003). In comparison, in Chitwan National Park in Nepal, 60 Bristled Grassbirds were recorded during a survey in March–May 2010 and density was estimated as 54 (± 15 95% CI) individuals per km2 (Singh and Buckingham Reference Singh and Buckingham2015), indicating a significantly lower population density in Bangladesh. Singh and Buckingham (Reference Singh and Buckingham2015) determined density of Bristled Grassbird per km2 by dividing number of birds recorded at each sample point (75-m radius at intervals of 200 m) and an area of sample plot that denoted wide confidence limits.

This high density in Nepal could be because of unadjusted estimates and possible positive bias resulting from call playbacks, which led nearby Bristled Grassbirds into the counting plots that were rather small with short intervals between them (Thompson Reference Thompson2002, Buckland et al. Reference Buckland, Anderson, Burnham and Laake2005). Baral et al. (Reference Baral, Wattel, Brewin and Ormerod2013) estimated 10 birds per km2, which is 81.84 ± 33.34% lower than 54 ± 15 birds km2 (Singh and Buckingham Reference Singh and Buckingham2015), although both studies used playback methods (but line transects instead of point counts) to estimate density of Bristled Grassbird. Therefore, these largely dissimilar population estimates of Bristled Grassbirds from Nepal may be incomparable to our results from Bangladesh since different methods were used to compute densities.

The unsupervised ISO Cluster classification model predicted that high quality grassland habitat is still found in the Padma and Jamuna river systems. This habitat suitability map provides the first insight into the spatial patterning of potential suitable Bristled Grassbird habitats across the entire extent of Padma and Jamuna riverine grassland systems. It is likely that the Bristled Grassbird may occur in riverine grasslands along other rivers of Bangladesh during breeding and further surveys are needed to verify this prediction.

Based on the assessment of known records throughout its range and studies in Nepal (Baral et al. Reference Baral, Wattel, Brewin and Ormerod2013, Singh and Buckingham Reference Singh and Buckingham2015), the current population estimate by BirdLife International is 2,500–9,999 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2019). In that estimate, populations of riverine systems of Bangladesh had not been included since there were only a few records prior to this study. Therefore, considering this new population estimate for Bangladesh, the global population of Bristled Grassbird should be higher than 2,500–9,999 with 443–1,294 mature individuals in the Padma and Jamuna river systems of Bangladesh alone.

Habitat preference and tolerance

In Nepal, Bristled Grassbird preferred Saccharum spontaneum-dominated and often lightly grazed grasslands, that are similar (Figure 3) to Bangladesh (Baral et al. Reference Baral, Wattel, Brewin and Ormerod2013, Singh and Buckingham Reference Singh and Buckingham2015). The species showed a negative correlation with trees in Nepal (Singh and Buckingham Reference Singh and Buckingham2015), however in the Rajshahi region of Bangladesh, grassbirds occurred in short (1.3 m) Tamarix dioica-dominated grassland as well. Broadly, the habitat preference of Bristled Grassbird appears to be similar amongst all range countries (BirdLife International 2019)

As described earlier (del Hoyo et al. Reference del Hoyo, Elliott and Christie2006, Baral et al. Reference Baral, Wattel, Brewin and Ormerod2013, BirdLife International 2019), our study clearly showed that the occurrence of Bristled Grassbird is restricted to grasslands with tall grasses. However, our results also indicate that the Bristled Grassbird is more tolerant to human presence and habitat modifications than previously thought. We found that 66.66% detections (n = 39) were within 250 m of human presence with an average distance of 194.56 m (SD = 174.25, SE = 27.28) from humans. Moreover, we found presence of Bristled Grassbird in plots with agricultural interventions (59.25%, n = 27), grazing by domestic cattle (55.55%, n = 27) and grass harvesting by local people (44.44%, n = 27), suggesting that the species may be less vulnerable to grassland modifications and can tolerate low to moderate human disturbance (Figure 4). Studies in Nepal (Baral et al. Reference Baral, Wattel, Brewin and Ormerod2013, Singh and Buckingham Reference Singh and Buckingham2015) took place within protected areas, the effect of human-made disturbance and interventions on Bristled Grassbird’s occurrence was not fully investigated.

Distribution in Bangladesh

Bristled Grassbird was rediscovered in north-east Bangladesh in April 2014 at Tanguar Haor (seasonal freshwater wetland). After the rediscovery, we could trace only 13 records along Upper Padma river (Khan et al. Reference Khan, Khan, Ahmed and Shovon2015, Chowdhury Reference Chowdhury2016, BirdLife International 2019). Our surveys confirm its occurrence in the Lower Padma and throughout Jamuna river for the first time. Previous records and our findings indicate that the Bristled Grassbird is more widely distributed throughout Bangladesh and has been overlooked due to lack of visits by birdwatchers and researchers during the breeding season in its preferred habitats (tall grasses near water) across riverine and grasslands in freshwater wetland (Khan et al. Reference Khan, Khan, Ahmed and Shovon2015, S. U. Chowdhury pers. obs. 2016, BirdLife International 2019).

Breeding behaviour

At all survey locations we detected courtship display by males from the second week of April. The males were seen flying around the grassland, circling and calling. Bristled Grassbirds were seen carrying nesting materials on 15 occasions in Rajshahi, Moinot, Mawa, Pabna, Bogura and Kurigram (Table 1). Opportunistically, we found two nests on 20 April 2019 at Pabna (Table 1) when Bristled Grassbirds were seen carrying nesting materials and subsequently followed to locate the nests. Both nests were under construction and were found in 1.2 m and 1 m tall Saccharum spontaneum stands, positioned 1 m and 0.5 m above ground. Nests were located near to the river (60 m and 38.4 m) and 1.23 km apart. Nests were small (width: 6 cm and 7 cm), globe-shaped structure built with dry Saccharum spontaneum grass, with an entrance near the top but slightly sloping to the side. Our nests match the description provided in Khan et al. (Reference Khan, Khan, Ahmed and Shovon2015), although the authors found the nest in Imperata grass, not Saccharum spontaneum.

Threats

The major threats to this species and riverine floodplain grassland appear to be habitat conversion as a result of agricultural interventions (45.09%, n = 51), grazing (52.95%) and grass cutting (43.13%). Detection rate of Bristled Grassbirds sharply decreased with increasing agriculture and grass harvesting but no decline in plots with grazing (Figure 4). Agricultural encroachment appears to be more severe in Bangladesh than Nepal, possibly because Bristled Grassbird mainly occurs inside protected areas in Nepal (Baral et al. Reference Baral, Wattel, Brewin and Ormerod2013, Singh and Buckingham Reference Singh and Buckingham2015). Other threats such as drainage, sand mining, commercial forestry plantations and irrigation projects (BirdLife International 2019) do not pose a significant threat to the species in riverine floodplain grasslands of Bangladesh. A number of factors that may have affected the floodplain grasslands and riverine ecosystems have occurred due to the construction of dams, bridges, and embankments (Chowdhury et al. Reference Chowdhury, Foysal, Sharpe and Shahadat2014).

Conservation implications

Given the possible ongoing decline of Bristled Grassbird throughout its range (BirdLife International 2019), Bangladesh appears to be an important country, especially because of vast tracts of suitable riverine grassland habitats that potentially support a substantial number of the Bristled Grassbird’s global population. Riverine habitats are possibly the most neglected ecosystems in terms of conservation efforts in Bangladesh (Chowdhury et al. Reference Chowdhury, Foysal, Sharpe and Shahadat2014, IUCN Bangladesh 2015). However riverine wetlands, waters and floodplain grasslands support 22 avian species of global concern including the ‘Critically Endangered’ Yellow-breasted Bunting Emberiza aureola (S. U. Chowdhury pers. obs. 2020) and Baer’s Pochard Aythya baeri, ‘Endangered’ Black-bellied Tern Sterna acuticauda and Steppe Eagle Aquila nipalensis, eight ‘Vulnerable’ and 11 other ‘Near Threatened’ birds (Siddiqui et al. Reference Siddiqui, Islam, Kabir, Ahmad, Ahmed, Rahman, Haque, Ahmed, Begum, Hasan, Khondker and Rahman2008, Chowdhury et al. Reference Chowdhury, Foysal, Sharpe and Shahadat2014).

None of the Bristled Grassbird sites or any riverine floodplain grassland and associated habitat is currently protected in Bangladesh. However, the authors submitted three possible protected areas proposals across the Padma and Jamuna river systems to the Bangladesh Forest Department under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. These potential protected areas include 2,522 ha near Kushtia district and 947 ha near Rajshahi city along Padma river, and 7,082 ha along Jamuna river from Sirajganj district to Kazipur sub-district. For long-term conservation of riverine grassland birds of Bangladesh, these protected areas should be immediately established and conservation management including prevention of agricultural encroachment, grass cutting, and livestock grazing should be implemented.

Our study represents the most complete report on the distribution, habitat use, population and density of Bristled Grassbird in Bangladesh. However, various important aspects of its natural history and ecology such as breeding biology, migration, non-breeding habitat use, and response to rainfall patters are still largely unknown. We recommend further surveys in riverine habitats across smaller rivers throughout Bangladesh and long-term studies to fully understand Bristled Grassbird’s natural history and movement. Our findings also illustrate that there are vast tracts of riverine grassland habitats along large rivers of Bangladesh and point out that grassland ecosystems are highly neglected in terms of conservation actions in South Asia including Bangladesh. Only 4.61% of the terrestrial ecosystem of Bangladesh is protected, which is considerably lower than the target set by Aichi target 11 (Woodley et al. Reference Woodley, Bertzky, Crawhall, Dudley, Londoño, MacKinnon, Redford and Sandwith2012). Bangladesh is one of the densely populated countries in the world with an extremely high demand for land, and where unoccupied land without infrastructure is scarce (Streatfield and Karar Reference Streatfield and Karar2008, Hasan et al. Reference Hasan, Deng, Li and Chen2017). Hence, protecting these yet unoccupied grassland ecosystems offer an excellent opportunity for the government of Bangladesh to meet Aichi target 11 and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15 ‘Life on Land’ (Rahman Reference Rahman2021). We therefore urge rapid and immediate designation of grassland protected areas in Bangladesh, which do not exist in the current protected area network.

Supplementary Materials

To view supplementary material for this article, please visit http://doi.org/10.1017/S0959270922000223.

Acknowledgements

We are grateful to the Oriental Bird Club for funding this project. We thank Abida R. Chowdhury, Jahin Shams, Md Sharif Hossain Sourav, Samir Saha and Jaber Rai for participating in our field surveys. We thank Sabir Bin Muzaffar for commenting on an earlier draft and other anonymous reviewers for their useful comments. We also thank Tania Zakir for the Bristled Grassbird illustration used in Figure 3.

References

Arya, A. (2010) Bristled Grassbird Chaetornis striatus—a breeding record in Uttar Pradesh. BirdingASIA 14: 9598.Google Scholar
Ashworth, P. J., Best, J. L., Roden, J. E., Bristow, C. S. and Klaassen, G. J. (2000) Morphological evolution and dynamics of a large, sand braid-bar, Jamuna River, BangladeshSedimentology 47: 533555.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Baral, H. S., Wattel, J., Brewin, P. A. and Ormerod, S. J. (2013) Status and distribution of the globally threatened Bristled Grassbird Chaetornis striata (Jerdon, 1841) (Fam. Sylviidae) in NepalThe Initiation 5: 115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
BirdLife International (2001) Threatened birds of Asia: The BirdLife International Red Data Book. Cambridge, UK: BirdLife International.Google Scholar
BirdLife International (2019) Species factsheet: Chaetornis striata. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 14/05/2019.Google Scholar
Bråkenhielm, S. and Qinghong, L. (1995) Comparison of field methods in vegetation monitoring. Pp. 7587 in Biogeochemical monitoring in small catchmentsDordrecht: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brooks, T. M., Da Fonseca, G. A. and Rodrigues, A. S. (2004) Protected areas and species. Conserv. Biol. 18: 616618.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Buckland, S. T., Anderson, D. R., Burnham, K. P. and Laake, J. L. (2005) Distance sampling. In Encyclopedia of biostatistics . Vol. 2. London: John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
Buckland, S. T., Anderson, D. R., Burnham, K. P., Laake, J. L., Borchers, D. L. and Thomas, L. (2001) Introduction to distance sampling estimating abundance of biological populations. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Buckland, S. T., Oedekoven, C. S. and Borchers, D. L. (2016) Model-based distance samplingJ. Agric. Biol. Environ. Statist. 21: 5875.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ceballos, G., Davidson, A., List, R., Pacheco, J., Manzano-Fischer, P., Santos-Barrera, G. and Cruzado, J. (2010) Rapid decline of a grassland system and its ecological and conservation implicationsPLoS One 5: e8562.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Chowdhury, S. U., Foysal, M., Sharpe, J. and Shahadat, O. (2014) A survey for Black bellied Tern Sterna acuticauda and other riverine birds on the Jamuna and Padma rivers in Bangladesh. Forktail 30: 8489.Google Scholar
Chowdhury, S. U. (2016) Recent Rarities. Pp. 1920 in Banglar Pakhi–Bangladesh Bird Club Newsletter. Dhaka: Bangladesh Bird Club.Google Scholar
Clavel, J., Julliard, R. and Devictor, V. (2011) Worldwide decline of specialist species: toward a global functional homogenization? Front. Ecol. Environ. 9: 222228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Collar, N. J., Baral, H. S., Batbayer, N., Bhardwaj, G. S., Brahma, N., Burnside, R. J., Choudhury, A. U., Combreau, O., Dolman, P. M., Donald, P. F., Dutta, S., Gadhavi, D., Gore, K., Goroshko, O. A., Hong, C., Jather, G. A., Jha, R. R. S., Jhala, Y. V., Koshkin, M. A., Lahkar, B. P., Liu, G., Mahood, S. P., Morales, M. B., Narwade, S. S., Natsagdorj, T., Nefedov, A. A., Silva, J. P., Thakuri, J. J.,Wang, M., Zhang, Y. and Kessler, A. E. (2017) Averting the extinction of bustards in Asia. Forktail 33: 126.Google Scholar
Congalton, R. G., and Green, K. (2008Assessing the accuracy of remotely sensed data: principles and practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cornils, J. S., Riedl, I., Fricke, J., Katz, M. and Schulze, C. H. (2015) Population density and habitat preferences of the Black-cheeked Ant-tanager Habia atrimaxillarisBird Conserv. Internatn. 25: 306321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Christie, D. (2006Handbook of the birds of the world. Vol. 11: Old World flycatchers to Old World warblers. Barcelona, Spain: Lynx Edicions.Google Scholar
Erdelen, M. (1984) Bird communities and vegetation structure: I. Correlations and comparisons of simple and diversity indicesOecologia 61: 277284.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Godínez-Alvarez, H., Herrick, J. E., Mattocks, M., Toledo, D. and Van Zee, J. (2009) Comparison of three vegetation monitoring methods: their relative utility for ecological assessment and monitoringEcol. Indic. 9: 10011008.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gottschalk, T. K., Huettmann, F. and Ehlers, M. (2005) Thirty years of analysing and modelling avian habitat relationships using satellite imagery data: a reviewInternatn. J. Remote Sens. 26: 26312656.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Haddad, N. M., Brudvig, L. A., Clobert, J., Davies, K. F., Gonzalez, A., Holt, R. D., Lovejoy, T. E., Sexton, J. O., Austin, M. P., Collins, C. D. and Cook, W. M. (2015) Habitat fragmentation and its lasting impact on Earth’s ecosystemsSci. Advances 1: e1500052.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Haque, E. U. and Tareq, O. (2014) The rediscovery of Bristled Grassbird Chaetornis striata in Bangladesh. BirdingASIA 22: 16 18.Google Scholar
Hasan, S. S., Deng, X., Li, Z. and Chen, D. (2017) Projections of future land use in Bangladesh under the background of baseline, ecological protection and economic development. Sustainability 9: 505.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Heath, P. J., and Thorns, D. M. (1989) Bristled Grass Warbler Chaetornis striatus new to and breeding in Nepal, and its separation from Large Grass Warbler Graminicola bengalensisForktail 4: 118121.Google Scholar
Hossain, M. (2017) Bangladesher Pushpo-Brikkho Lota-Gulmo. Dhaka, Bangladesh: Torupollob.Google Scholar
Islam, S. N. (2016) Deltaic floodplains development and wetland ecosystems management in the Ganges–Brahmaputra–Meghna Rivers Delta in BangladeshSust. Water Resour. Manage. 2: 237256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
IUCN Bangladesh (2015) Red List of Bangladesh Volume 3: Birds. Dhaka, Bangladesh: IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature, Bangladesh Country Office.Google Scholar
Khan, M. M. H., Khan, T. A. N. I. A., Ahmed, A. and Shovon, T. A. (2015) Notes on nesting Bristled Grassbird Chaetornis striata, Tanguar Haor, BangladeshBirding ASIA 24: 9395.Google Scholar
Klimeš, L. (2003) Scale-dependent variation in visual estimates of grassland plant coverJ. Veg. Sci. 14: 815821.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Krishnan, A. (2021) Bristled Grassbird (Schoenicola striatus), version 1.0. In del Hoyo, J., Elliot, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D. A. and De Juana, E., eds. Birds of the world. Ithaca, NY, USA: Cornell Lab of Ornithology. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.brigra2.02.1.Google Scholar
Lauver, C. L., Busby, W. H., and Whistler, J. L. (2002) Testing a GIS model of habitat suitability for a declining grassland birdEnviron. Manage. 30: 8897.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Long, P. R., Zefania, S., Ffrench-Constant, R. H. and Székely, T. (2008) Estimating the population size of an endangered shorebird, the Madagascar plover, using a habitat suitability modelAnim. Conserv. 11: 118127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Madge, S. (2020) Striated Grassbird (Megalurus palustris), version 1.0. In Billerman, S. M., Bridwell, M. A. and Rodewald, P. G., eds. Birds of the world. Ithaca, NY, USA: Cornell Lab of Ornithology. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.strgra1.01.Google Scholar
McKinney, M. L. (1997) Extinction vulnerability and selectivity: combining ecological and paleontological viewsAnnu. Rev. Ecol. Syst. 28: 495516.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nikolakaki, P. (2004) A GIS site-selection process for habitat creation: estimating connectivity of habitat patchesLandsc. Urban Plann. 68: 7794.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Peet, N. B., Watkinson, A. R., Bell, D. J. and Sharma, U. R. (1999) The conservation management of Imperata cylindrica grassland in Nepal with fire and cutting: an experimental approachJ. Appl. Ecol. 36: 374387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Phillips, S. J., Dudík, M., Elith, J., Graham, C. H., Lehmann, A., Leathwick, J. and Ferrier, S. (2009) Sample selection bias and presence-only distribution models: implications for background and pseudo-absence dataEcol. Applic. 19: 181197.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Purvis, A., Gittleman, J. L., Cowlishaw, G. and Mace, G. M. (2000) Predicting extinction risk in declining speciesProc. Roy. Soc. Lond. Ser. B: Biol. Sci. 267(1456): 19471952.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
R Core Team (2016) R: A language and environment for statistical computing. Vienna, Austria: R Foundation for Statistical Computing.Google Scholar
Rahman, M. M. (2021) Achieving sustainable development goals of Agenda 2030 in Bangladesh: the crossroad of the governance and performance. Public Admin. Pol.: An Asia-Pacific Journal 24: 195211.Google Scholar
Rotenberry, J. T. and Wiens, J. A. (1980) Habitat structure, patchiness, and avian communities in North American steppe vegetation: a multivariate analysisEcology 61: 12281250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sarker, M. H., Huque, I., Alam, M. and Koudstaal, R. (2003) Rivers, chars and char dwellers of BangladeshInternatn. J. River Basin Manage. 1: 6180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Streatfield, P. K. and Karar, Z. A. (2008) Population challenges for Bangladesh in the coming decades. J. Health Popul. Nutrit. 26: 261272.Google ScholarPubMed
Siddiqui, K. U., Islam, M. A., Kabir, S. M. H., Ahmad, M., Ahmed, A. T. A., Rahman, A. K. A., Haque, E. U., Ahmed, Z. U., Begum, Z. N. T., Hasan, M A., Khondker, M. and Rahman, M. M., eds. (2008) Encyclopaedia of flora and fauna of Bangladesh. Vol. 26: Birds. Dhaka, Bangladesh: Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.Google Scholar
Singh, P. B. and Buckingham, D. L. (2015) Population status and habitat ecology of Bristled Grassbird Chaetornis striata in Chitwan National Park, central NepalForktail 31: 8791.Google Scholar
Smith, B. D., Haque, A. A., Hossain, M. S. and Khan, A. (1998) River dolphins in Bangladesh: conservation and the effects of water developmentEnviron. Manage. 22: 323335.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Thomas, L., Buckland, S. T., Rexstad, E. A., Laake, J. L., Strindberg, S., Hedley, S. L. and Burnham, K. P. (2010) Distance software: design and analysis of distance sampling surveys for estimating population sizeJ. Appl. Ecol. 47: 514.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Thompson, P. M., Chowdhury, S. U., Haque, E. U., Khan, M. M. H. and Halder, R. (2014) Notable bird records from Bangladesh from July 2002 to July 2013. Forktail 30: 5065.Google Scholar
Thompson, W. L. (2002) Towards reliable bird surveys: accounting for individuals present but not detectedThe Auk 119: 1825.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wegge, P., Shrestha, A. K. and Moe, S. R. (2006) Dry season diets of sympatric ungulates in lowland Nepal: competition and facilitation in alluvial tall grasslandsEcol. Res. 21: 698706.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
White, R. P., Murray, S., Rohweder, M., Prince, S. D. and Thompson, K. M. (2000). Grassland ecosystems. Washington DC: World Resources Institute.Google Scholar
Winter, M., Johnson, D. H. and Shaffer, J. A. (2005) Variability in vegetation effects on density and nesting success of grassland birdsJ. Wildl. Manage. 69: 185197.2.0.CO;2>CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Woodroffe, R. and Ginsberg, J. R. (1998) Edge effects and the extinction of populations inside protected areasScience 280(5372): 21262128.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Woodley, S., Bertzky, B., Crawhall, N., Dudley, N., Londoño, J. M., MacKinnon, K., Redford, K. and Sandwith, T. (2012) Meeting Aichi Target 11: what does success look like for protected area systems. Parks 18: 2336.Google Scholar
Figure 0

Figure 1. Projected potential distribution (black areas) of Bristled Grassbird in the Padma and Jamuna river systems in Bangladesh based on habitat suitability model (ISO Cluster classification), study sites (red squares) and point count stations of site 1 (white circles). Further details of each location are given in Table 1.

Figure 1

Table 1. Bristled Grassbird survey sites, area, number of point count (PC) stations and GPS coordinates of each site.

Figure 2

Figure 2. Histogram (left column) of detection distances for point count surveys with corresponding fit to model predicting the detection probability with increasing distance from the point count stations using a truncation at 100 m distance. The detection curve, corresponding QQ-plot (right column) with goodness of fit test results are predicted by Hazard-rate key function model.

Figure 3

Table 2. Results of distance sampling of three different models used to estimate density (individual/km2) of Bristled Grassbird along large rivers of Bangladesh, with Akaike information criterion (AIC) values, AICC weights of each model, encounter rate (ER) per point count station, standard error (SE), coefficient of variation (CV), 95% confidence interval (CI) and degrees of freedom (df).

Figure 4

Table 3. Results of Generalised Liner Models (GLMs) testing for the effect of habitat variables, vegetation height, vegetation density and human activities on presence of Bristled Grassbird during breeding season across all sites of the study area. Significant effects are indicated in bold.

Figure 5

Figure 3. Linear regression indicating significant positive correlations between Bristled Grassbird abundance and grass density (A), grass cover (B) and grass height (C), and weak relationship with shrub density (D), cover (E) and height (F).

Figure 6

Figure 4. Linear regression showing effect of agricultural interventions (A), grass harvesting (B) and livestock grazing (C) on the abundance of Bristled Grassbird at point count stations.

Supplementary material: File

Chowdhury et al. supplementary material

Chowdhury et al. supplementary material

Download Chowdhury et al. supplementary material(File)
File 16.9 KB