Conservation status and threats to lovebirds: knowledge gaps and research priorities
Lovebirds (genus Agapornis of family Psittaculidae) are a group of small, colourful parrot species endemic to sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar, two-thirds of which are considered to have declining populations. Effective conservation efforts are hampered by a lack of information, particularly for species occurring in regions that have received little research attention. We combined expert knowledge with a review of the primary and grey literature to identify key knowledge gaps and priority conservation actions for this group of birds. Published studies were found to be largely concentrated on lovebird populations in southern Africa and, to a lesser extent in East Africa, and therefore mostly concern members of the ‘white eye-ring’ clade. Some species, such as the Black-collared Lovebird Agapornis swindernianus, remain very poorly studied, with a lack of even basic information such as georeferenced occurrence records. Several lovebird species were historically taken from the wild in large numbers for the international pet trade, leading to population declines. Although trade in wild lovebirds has been much reduced compared with historical levels, considerable numbers are still captured for local and international trade without any monitoring of the wild populations. Habitat change continues to drive declines in the population and range of some species, particularly those considered habitat specialists, such as the Nyasa Lovebird A. lilianae and the Black-cheeked Lovebird A. nigrigenis. However, changing habitat has also driven range expansions and, in combination with trade, has created numerous novel contact zones between formerly allopatric species, such as between Fischer’s Lovebird A. fischeri and Yellow-collared Lovebird A. personatus. Hybridisation has been widely reported, particularly in East Africa, and studies on the implications of this for conservation, building on recent advances in genetic tools, are urgently needed. We call for more targeted research on lovebirds to inform assessments of their population trends, to understand the drivers of these trends, and to highlight opportunities to leverage existing data and new research tools to advance knowledge to support conservation in this group of birds. Keywords: Agapornis, Psittaculidae, habitat loss, hybridisation, sub-Saharan Africa, wildlife trade.
Ostrich - Journal of African Ornithology