Cockpit Country is dificult to navigate. Typical ecological research methods (counts, line transects, nest boxes, mist-netting, GPS tracking) is difficult to deploy. Research taking place within the forest is often a piecemeal labour of love by visiting researchers who sometimes seek guidance from knowledgeable local NGOs.

The lack of a central system that tracks and coordinates such research means there is often repetition and a failure to build upon some of the important work already done.

PROJECT NAME: Bobbing for black-bills:enabling local stakeholder research participation to assess declines of endemic Jamaican parrots




Two species of parrots are endemic to Jamaica: the black-billed parrot (Amazona agilis) and the yellow-billed parrot (Amazona collaria), both Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List due to habitat loss and hunting pressures. The yellow-billed parrot is extant across the island (Davis 2017), however the black-billed parrot is believed to be restricted to a single forest, Cockpit Country (Koenig 2001). Field research conducted in the 1990s has been the only systematic study of any avian species in Cockpit Country, and possibly the entire island (Koenig, 2016). Consequently, conservation policies around both species have been informed by sparse, outdated data and the presumption of increased hunting pressure on the more colourful and larger yellow-billed parrot. Our recent research, incorporating indigenous knowledge, however, uncovered an accelerated rate of decline of black-billed parrots (Cawley et al, 2020) and a reduction in hunting pressure on yellow-billed parrots (Gibson, 2020), and informed the IUCN Red List’s reassessments of both species and upgrade of the black-billed parrot’s status to Endangered.

Future research on the population trends of both Jamaican parrots is urgently needed and requires skilled and committed researchers to undertake robust, long-term studies. Spatial ecology, revealing habitat use and current threats and pressures, is unknown. As is the populations’ genetic structure, to understand potential hybridisation by non-native species – a poorly-understood but significant threat. Increasing numbers of psittacines have been sighted outside of their ranges in the Greater Antillean islands (e.g. Luna et al, 2018), and evidence suggests hybridisation between non-native and endemic congeners (Cawley et al., 2020) – an indication of widening biological corridors (a response to droughts or hurricanes) or trafficking networks (non-native species introduced through pet trade). In the tropical forests of Jamaica, however, fieldwork avoidance is heightened by lack of technological access (Reillo and Durand, 2008) and difficult terrain (Gale et al. 2009; Thompson 2002).

Work without legacy can be harmful. It can sink local communities into poverty or displace remote societies through laws that no longer provide the protection anticipated. It can also leave endemic, small-bodied, hard-to-detect species to cycle through IUCN red list assessments unreviewed, until its inevitable reclassification as data deficient

How can we establish important baselines and data sharing protocols that can begin to synthesise critical findings and allow us to better understand trends and changes in species population, distribution, richness, or abundance of the black-billed parrot, whose restricted range, possible hybridisation, and particular pressures as a habitat-specialist we know so little about?

This project, as well as establishing robust baseline data for future research, looks for ways that data can be shared between stakeholders and visiting researchers, creating data-drop systems, a centralised database and a set of data protocols that increases accessibility, transparency, functionality, and responsiveness in conservation research and management, particularly when landscapes are so unnavigable and species so undetectable

This research is in collaboration with Co-Principal Investigators Dr Annette Fayet and Dr F. Gozde Çilingir. Check here for updates on this project and the launch of the designated monitoring website!

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