Biology and conservation of the endangered Bahama Swallow (Tachycineta cyaneoviridis)

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Virginia Tech


In order to prevent species extinctions, conservation strategies need to incorporate the identification and mitigation of the root causes of population decline with an assessment of vulnerability to genetic and stochastic factors affecting small populations. Species or populations with small ranges, such as those on islands, are particularly vulnerable to extinction, and deficient knowledge of these species often impedes conservation efforts. The Bahama Swallow (Tachycineta cyaneoviridis) is an endangered secondary cavity-nester that only breeds on three islands in the northern Bahamas: Abaco, Grand Bahama, and Andros. I investigated questions related to population size and distribution, genetic diversity and population structure, breeding biology, and ecological interactions of the swallow, with the goal of informing the conservation and management of the species. Using several population survey methods on Abaco, I found that swallow site occupancy and density is higher in southern Abaco, especially near roads and pine snags. Future research should prioritize identifying the causes of variable and low population densities in parts of the swallow's range. I used microsatellite markers and morphometrics to assess differences between populations on Abaco and Andros. We found a lack of genetic differentiation (G'ST = 0.03) between populations, but differences in morphology suggest that gene flow might be low enough to enable traits under selection to diverge. By locating and monitoring nests, I found that swallows rely on woodpecker-excavated cavities in pine snags and utility poles, and that swallows nesting in pine snags had higher fledging success (92%) than those nesting in utility poles (50-62%). Using a cavity nest-web approach, I assessed how swallows interact with cavity-nesting birds and resources on Abaco. Hairy Woodpeckers (Dryobates villosus) primarily excavated pine snags, while West Indian Woodpeckers (Melanerpes superciliaris) excavated utility poles in non-pine habitat. Only swallows and La Sagra's Flycatchers (Myiarchus sagrae) used nest sites in the pine forest. Swallows in non-pine habitat face competition for cavities with American Kestrels (Falco sparverius), and non-native House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) and European Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). These results highlight the importance of pine forest and the Hairy Woodpecker for the persistence of the swallow.



endangered species, population distribution, population differentiation, cavity-nesting, nest-web, The Bahamas