Two main lines of action are proposed:
- Increase high quality habitat for the species (structural connectivity) in three Spanish regions; and.
- Reinforce subpopulations at high risk of extinction with wild animals from donor localities.
The increase in high quality habitat will expand a unique fragmented natural habitat, of high conservation interest, that supports the Dupont’s lark and other relevant bird species. Connecting source and source localities will delay local extinction of marginal subpopulations without affecting the persistence of donor subpopulations and the metapopulation as a whole. The Dupont’s lark is a paradigmatic species of population decline, as the Iberian population still maintains a few thousand individuals, but shows a clearly negative trend, this being the right time to act before the population collapses.
The actions foreseen are the following:
A1. Collection of information, including information from previous studies on bird populations and habitats.
A2. Identification and selection of action areas for habitat restoration and management; where restoration can achieve a clear improvement in ecological functionality and connectivity.
A3. Baseline monitoring of habitat quality: vegetation and food availability.
A4. Benchmark monitoring of birds: abundance, distribution, genetic structure, and diet of the populations of the Dupont’s lark.
A5. Design of habitat restoration and enhancement projects. Restoration will prioritize habitat recovery and ecological processes, considering sustainable sheep grazing as a key tool.
A6. Translocation program design. Includes guidelines for translocation, including risk assessment, selection of areas, dates and locations; capture, handling, GPS tagging, transfer and release, as well as consideration of animal welfare, ecological, social and economic aspects. It will include an exit strategy if a point is reached where further investment of resources is no longer justified.
Specific conservation actions
C1. Habitat restoration: plantings, management and selective thinning of trees and scrub, topographic restoration.
C2. Habitat improvement: livestock management and dung seeding, through improved grazing management, infrastructure, water points, etc. May include sheep dung sowing demonstration actions if sheep grazing is unfeasible.
C3. Translocations. Translocation of a reduced number of individuals (3 males, 3 females) during 4 years in 3 sites in Castilla-La Mancha. The destination sites (within the SPA) will be selected among subpopulations with a high number of individuals. The target subpopulations (within the SPA) will be localities where the species has recently become extinct, areas at high risk of extinction, and/or main contributors to the global connectivity of the metapopulation, verified by PVA. National requirements for capture and release of animals will be met.
D. Project impact monitoring. We will monitor bird populations, habitat quality and habitat conditioning after restoration and enhancement by comparison with control areas (BACI method).
D1. Monitoring of habitat quality: vegetation and food availability. Indicators of the achievement of high quality habitat standards.
D2. Monitoring of the populations of the Dupont’s lark: population sizes, genetic structure, considerations on diseases and parasites, monitoring of released birds. Includes indicators of success in reinforcements and that source populations are not being affected, including an adaptive management cycle for translocations.
D3. Technical-agronomic monitoring of habitat conservation and improvement actions: restoration, replenishment, adaptive grazing management. Indicators of the level of success of restoration measures.
D4. Indicators. Collection of evidence to measure progress towards project objectives and, ultimately, success or failure.
Information and dissemination of results
E1. General dissemination of the project. Includes a web page launched at the beginning of the project, which will be updated periodically.
E2. Dissemination of results to regional, national and supranational administrations. Dissemination to European, national and regional authorities, including the Inventory of Species Conservation Projects (IUCN).
E3. Technical publications and communication actions. The results will be communicated in technical and scientific documents and reports, as well as in informative brochures for the general public.
E4. Local dissemination: Awareness raising and environmental education.
F1. Project management: administrative, economic and technical coordination.
F2. Project coordination: meetings.
F3. External audit.
F4. Scientific Committee. This is an external advisory board to be created with experts in ecological restoration, grazing and birds. It will meet at least once a year to advise the technical coordination.
F5. Post-LIFE Communication Plan and Conservation Plan.