Larks' adaptation and breeding success in Kuwait State

Alshehabi, Yahya Esmail (2012) Larks' adaptation and breeding success in Kuwait State. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This study aimed to examine the effectiveness of the protection measures currently in place to conserve the natural environment in Kuwait State. Comparison of protection effectiveness was based on the measurements of ecological habitat quality and biodiversity. In order to achieve this, 2 protected areas (SAANR and Kabd) and 2 comparable unprotected areas (B-SAANR and R-Kabd) were studied. In addition, an arable land area, the Pivot farm, was also studied. I examined the floral and avifaunal richness in these five areas. Distribution and abundance of members of the lark family Alaudidae, and the crested lark Galerida cristata in particular, were measured as a key habitat indicator. I also investigated the importance of water provison for wildlife. The diurnal use of a water hole and behaviour of crested larks during foraging and shading was observed. The challenge that larks face to cope with the high temperature during the breeding seasons was also examined.
The assessment of the vegetation identified the plant species richness as an index of habitat types, and this was examined in relation to human activity factors (e.g. grazing, camping, etc). Two-Way Indicator Species Analysis (TWINSPAN) showed three sample-groups of vegetation types (labelled A, B and C), a Haloxylon community (C); a sub-community (B: indicated by Helianthemum) of the Stipa community type; and a sub-community (A: indicated by Plantago and Schismus) of the mixed Stipa - Cyperus community type. Vegetation is a powerful indicator of land degradation in Kuwait. Richness of plant species was correlated negatively with land degradation.
Lark species were used as indicators to measure the benefit of the current conservation measures. There was a significant difference between lark density and species richness in protected, non-protected and arable lands. Density of larks was very low in non-protected areas, being about one individual km-2 (Figure 3.3). An obvious conclusion from the results was the important role of protected areas in conservation context. As an example larks' species abundance and density in SAANR were remarkably higher than B-SAANR (Figure 3.9 and 3.10). Furthermore, all other larks' species were absent in B-SAANR area in both breeding and non-breeding seasons.
This study showed the important role that a water hole can play in attracting wildlife in desert areas and in influencing several aspects of behaviour. Overall 96 animal species used the Talha water hole in SAANR, Kuwait throughout 2009. Talha water hole became an essential spot for attraction of most wildlife in the SAANR, especially in summer.
There may of course be cost associated with gathering in one place, such as at a water hole. Gregarious birds optimize vigilant attentiveness according to their group size. My study on the behavior of crested larks during winter and summer seasons in Kuwait revealed the presence of relationships between vigilance behaviours (head up, crest up and closed eye) verses group size. The study showed there are strong linkages between these behaviours and flock size. I found also a correlation between sitting individuals and having their crest up during shading. In addition, these vigilance behaviours were affected by the density of flocks. Hence, distance between foragers influences their social vigilance.
The breeding survey showed that larks face environmental challenges to breed in Kuwait. Absence of nests in unprotected areas B-SAANR and R-Kabd were correlated with their poor vegetation cover. Signs of larks breeding such as courtship display, protecting a territory or presence of nest were seen in the protected areas SAANR and Kabd. In SAANR, at least one of those signs was seen for greater hoopoe larks, crested larks and bar-tailed larks. In Kabd, juveniles of the black-crowned sparrow lark were seen.
Arable lands can play an important role for resident breeding species, especially in annual seasons that are characterised by a shortage of rainfall. For example, crested larks and doves were attracted to the Pivot farm. Territories and nests of crested larks were identified in alfalfa and barley crops. The Pivot farm possess potential characteristics that are absent in open areas and in protected areas. Crested larks were found mostly nesting in arable lands to compensate for poor habitat quality, low vegetation cover and rainfall shortages in protected areas. The effect of macro and microhabitat nest site selections on larks and doves thermoregulation was examined to determine the favourable position of the nest. Position and site location showed a remarkable effect on nest temperature. Further more, nest temperatures varied between different habitats and vegetation cover. The Pivot farm presents a good alternative habitat for crested larks to breed until mid-June.
To further study adaptations to warm weathers, I examined egg shell structure. A comparison of components of egg shell morphology reveals the presence of morphological and structural differences both between sibling species, and within the same species, collected at different latitudes. Two sibling species, crested larks Galerida cristata (from Kuwait) and skylarks Alauda arvensis (from the United Kingdom) have different egg volume, shell pigmentation and colour, thickness and water loss through the shell. The other sibling dove species showed difference in eggshell thickness between arid and temperate zones.
Within the same species, the house sparrow Passer domesticus, variation in eggshell thickness was also found between birds from Kuwait and the United Kingdom. The eggshells of house sparrows were thinner in Kuwaiti samples than in those collected in the United Kingdom. Moreover, within the United Kingdom there was also a similar latitudinal trend, with Scottish shell samples being thicker and those from further south in the UK being thinner. There was however little difference in water loss. In addition, average length and width of laughing dove eggs varied between South Africa and Kuwait samples. Hence, they differ in egg volume. These results suggest local adaptation in egg shell structure. Egg shell thickness increased at higher latitudes in both the sibling species, and in the within species, comparisons. This suggests that latitude, presumably via the effects of environmental temperature, can influence optimal eggshell structure, since the pattern was similar across the lark species compared with the within species variation in the sparrows. My data also reveal some variations among the eggshell characteristic of larks in response to temperature and latitude.
This study reveals the challenge that larks face to breed in Kuwait. To breed, a suitable secure habitat is essential. Habitat degradation was a remarkable in most non protected areas in Kuwait. Recommendations for conservation measures in Kuwait are discussed.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Lark species, skylark, crested lark, domestic sparrow, doves, habitat, density, abundance, vigilance, water hole, breeding behaviour, thermal challenge, eggshell adaptation, eggshell thickness, eggshell water loss
Subjects: Q Science > QL Zoology
Colleges/Schools: College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Biodiversity Animal Health and Comparative Medicine
Supervisor's Name: Monaghan, Prof. Pat
Date of Award: 2012
Depositing User: PhD Yahya Esmail Hassan Al-Shehabi
Unique ID: glathesis:2012-3775
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 07 Dec 2012
Last Modified: 06 Jan 2016 08:52

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