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The subdesert mesite, a terrestrial non-passerine bird endemic to the Mikea Forest of southwest Madagascar, is currently classified as globally threatened (category: Vulnerable). However, accurate assessment of threat in accordance with the IUCN Red List criteria (A, B and C) requires data on effective population size, area of habitat occupied and rate of decline, none of which is available for this species. Here we present the first empirical estimates of its population size using five complementary methods, three incorporating data on territory size and two using data gathered during call-playback surveys conducted throughout its entire global range. Estimates vary from 98,000 to 152,000 individuals, with the most reliable possibly being that generated by distance sampling (115,000). This figure is more than an order of magnitude greater than the only published estimate of <10,000 individuals. By analysing data on forest cover change, we estimate the population of the subdesert mesite to have declined by, at most, 10% in three generations. Although the rate of deforestation in 1994-1999 is double that calculated for 1962-1994, it is deemed unlikely that the population will decline by 20% over the next three generations. As such the species fails to meet criterion A. Although the subdesert mesite's range and area of occupancy are small, they are not fragmented and do not comprise fewer than 10 locations. Consequently, this species does not meet criterion B. Further, the species fails to meet criterion C, for which a maximum of 10,000 mature adults is required. According to IUCN (2000 Red List of Threatened Species) this species should therefore be downlisted in status. We discuss why it still warrants conservation attention and suggest the need for modifications to the criteria thresholds in relation to basic information about the ecology and taxonomic distinctness of species. © 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original publication




Journal article


Biological Conservation

Publication Date





199 - 212