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Conserving a globally threatened species in a semi-natural, agrarian landscape

  • Harriet Ibbett (a1), Chansetha Lay (a2), Ponlork Phlai (a2), Det Song (a3), Chamnan Hong (a2), Simon P. Mahood (a2) and E. J. Milner-Gulland (a4)...


Agriculture threatens biodiversity across the tropics, particularly in semi-natural grassland landscapes, where human populations are high, habitat is easily converted and agriculture is prone to intensification. Over the last 20 years intensive, commercial dry season rice cultivation has emerged as the dominant threat to the Bengal florican Houbaropsis bengalensis, a globally threatened bustard that breeds in the seasonally inundated grasslands of central Cambodia. Although floricans have been extensively monitored for 10 years, no socioeconomic research has been undertaken to examine how local livelihood activities interact with the florican. We conducted household questionnaires and focus groups in 21 villages in the Northern Tonle Sap Conservation Landscape to gather information on household demographics, rice farming and bird hunting in protected and unprotected areas of florican breeding habitat. We identified a significant increase in dry season rice adoption by local communities since 2005. Dry season rice cultivation was strongly associated with agrochemical use and rice fields directly overlapped with florican breeding habitat, reducing habitat availability throughout the breeding season. We identified a low but significant level of bird hunting in grassland households (8%) and revealed a demand for wild bird meat amongst local communities. Our findings suggest an urgent need for conservation interventions in unprotected farmland and emphasize the role of enforcement and community engagement in improving protection within protected areas. We highlight the potential of private sector initiatives such as the Sustainable Rice Platform in reconciling conservation and development for impoverished rural communities.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

(Corresponding author) E-mail


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Present address: Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, The Tinbergen Building, South Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3PS, UK

Also at: Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia



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