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Shah, Akbar; Kayani, Amjad Rashid; Ihlow, Flora; Nadeem, Muhammad Sajid; Mahmood, Tariq; Islam, Safiqul; Hausmann, Alexander E. and Paeckert, Martin (2022): Range-wide and regional distribution of the Western Tragopan Tragopan melanocephalus and effects of disturbance on local abundances. In: Bird Conservation International, Vol. 33

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The Western Tragopan Tragopan melanocephalus is endemic to the Western Himalayas and currently listed as 'Vulnerable' on the IUCN Red List which also emphasizes a data deficiency regarding its distribution and population size. With this study we provide new data from the Palas Valley, northern Pakistan and deliver a range wide estimate of the species current, past, and future potential distribution as derived from environmental niche models. In the Palas Valley, Western Tragopans occupied different summer habitats on north-facing slopes and winter habitats on south-facing slopes. A quantitative estimate of local populations in six side valleys was inferred from individual call-count surveys during two breeding seasons (April and May 2017, 2018) and disturbance factors were evaluated from information of local people provided in questionnaires. Generalized-linear models (GLMs) showed a significant effect of disturbance factors on Western Tragopans, i.e. local abundances decreased with increasing disturbance from livestock, collectors and hunters visiting the area. This effect was visible across survey years and at both, south- as well as north-facing slopes. While the known distributional range of the Western Tragopan is small and fragmented, our niche models inferred climatically suitable space between Himachal Pradesh and northwestern Pakistan to be more continuous. Given the species sensitivity to disturbance, these findings indicate that the observed fragmentation of the current range might also be attributed to habitat transformation or anthropogenic disturbance rather than climatic suitability. During the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) T. melanocephalus was probably restricted to small forest refugia, whereas projections onto eleven future climate simulations were inconclusive with the majority suggesting that climatically suitable space for T. melanocephalus will likely expand in response to anthropogenic climate change. In conclusion, we recommend that future conservation measures should be planned with regard to the species' sensitivity to anthropogenic disturbances.

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