Justification of Red List Category
This species is considered Critically Endangered because it has a tiny range, within which its montane forest habitat has become severely fragmented and continues to decline in both extent and quality. Its very small population has consequently been fragmented into extremely small subpopulations, and continues to experience declines in its remaining habitat.
Analysis of data from distance point counts carried out in 2001 suggests that the total population numbered 310-654 individuals (Borghesio et al. 2010), roughly equating to 210-430 mature individuals. Surveys conducted using the same technique from 2009 to 2015 suggested that a severe decline had taken place, and that the population may then have been only 100-150 individuals (BirdLife International 2010, Borghesio et al. 2014, L. Borghesio in litt. 2012), but it was considered that further study and analyses were required to confirm the population trend and population size. In 2017, a study found the global population to be <200 individuals (Borghesio et al. unpublished data, as reported in Wagura 2018; Wagura et al. 2019). A total population of c.200 individuals would roughly equate to 130 mature individuals. The population size is therefore placed here in the band of 50-249 mature individuals.
Fewer than 30 individuals are believed to persist in the subpopulation at Ngangao (Wagura et al. 2018). Assuming the global population is 200 individuals, that leaves c.170 individuals divided between Vuria and Msidunyi. If each subpopulation was the same size, c.85 would remain in each fragment, which equates roughly to c.50 mature individuals. As the global population is estimated to be less than 200 total individuals, it is estimated that each subpopulation contains <50 mature individuals.
Most of the original forest in the Taita Hills has been cleared for cultivation or reforested with non-native, timber-tree species. Surveys in 2009-2010 strongly suggested that the species had undergone a severe decline of up to 80% since 2001 (Githiru and Borghesio 2010, BirdLife International 2010, L. Borghesio in litt. 2012). Habitat loss and degradation are believed to be ongoing (L. Lens in litt. 2019; Global Forest Watch 2020).
This species is now restricted to a small number of forest fragments in the Dabida and Mbololo massifs, Taita Hills, Kenya (Samba in litt. 1997). Surveys in 1996 found the species only in Ngangao (120 ha), Chawia (86 ha), Fururu (8 ha) and Vuria (1 ha) forest fragments (Brooks et al. 1998). Analysis of unlimited point count data collected in 2001 suggests that the global population numbered 310-654 individuals (Borghesio et al. 2010). The same surveys found it occurred at much lower density in Chawia than in Ngangao and Vuria (Samba in litt. 1997, Borghesio et al. 2010). Surveys in 2009-2011 located the species on the Mbololo massif (200 ha of forest remaining), and at Fururu and Yale (16 ha of indigenous forest with a 98 ha plantation), as well as at Ngangao, Chawia and Vuria. Moreover, one small subpopulation of the species was discovered in 2011 in Msidunyi (8 ha), a previously unmapped forest fragment (Borghesio et al. 2015). Population monitoring has been carried out several times between 2001 and 2015, and these data suggest that the species has undergone a severe decline since 2001, with the population estimate now potentially as low as 100-150 individuals (Githiru and Borghesio 2010, BirdLife International 2010, Borghesio et al. 2014, L. Borghesio in litt. 2016), and definitely <200. An intensive survey in 2015 failed to locate the species in Chawia, Fururu and Mbololo (L. Borghesio in litt. 2016), and the species is now believed to only persist at Vurai, Msidunyi, and Ngangao (Wagura et al. 2019). The reasons for the apparent decline are uncertain, as illegal logging and disturbance have been significantly reduced, although a serious drought in 2009 may have been a factor.
The species inhabits the understorey of montane forest, favouring gaps and edges with thick undergrowth, where it gleans insects from vegetation mainly between 0-2 m above ground (Samba in litt. 1997, M. Githiru in litt. 2008). It shows a preference for areas with a high cover of climbers and, to a lesser extent, of Dracaena, although in general the species's occurrence in forest fragments shows only a weak relationship with habitat characteristics such as structure and floristics (Borghesio et al. 2010). The high frequency of this species in the disturbed, scrub-like vegetation of Vuria suggests that it is tolerant of wood-cutting and disturbance by humans (Borghesio et al. 2010). It normally moves singly or in pairs (rarely in small family parties of 3 to 4 individuals), searching leaves, twigs, branches and tree-trunks, sometimes descending to the ground and flycatching, feeding on small invertebrates and occasionally berries and seeds (Urban et al. 1997, M. Githiru in litt. 2008). It is territorial, and has a clutch-size of 2-4 (Urban et al. 1997, Wagura et al. 2012).
Most of the original forest in the Taita Hills has been cleared for cultivation or reforested with non-native, timber-tree species (Urban et al. 1997, Brooks et al. 1998). Lack of clear boundary demarcations for some protected forest fragments may compromise conservation efforts. Wildfires have also been recorded as one of the threats to the forest fragment at Vuria, and a serious drought in 2009 may have been a factor in the apparent recent population crash.
Due to conservation efforts remaining forest fragments have been reasonably well protected. As a result however, forest gaps where this species often nests (to benefit from lower nest predation [Spanhove et al. 2009]), appear to have decreased in Mbololo and Ngangao, leading to increasing nest predation (particularly high in the population at Ngangao). Decreasing population of Taita Apalis in these forests may in part be caused by a loss in nesting habitat, but this is currently unclear (L. Lens in litt. 2019), when considering that Taita Apalis are able to renest several times in a season (L. Lens in litt. 2019).
Having a montane distribution that is close to the maximum altitude within its range, this species is potentially susceptible to climate change (BirdLife International unpublished data). Since 2012, reports of sightings of A. thoracica in the Taita Hills have been increasing, creating fears of hybridization between the two species. However, these sighting are now thought to refer to a juvenile Taita Apalis, and a DNA study is necessary to confirm the threat of hybridisation (L. Lens in litt. 2019).
Conservation and Research Actions Underway
The Forest Department is now safeguarding the remaining forest fragments of the Taita Hills. The Taita Hills have been designated as an IBA, and Nature Kenya are committed to conserving the area with a Species Action Plan, developed in 2015 (Nature Kenya et al. 2015). Much of the remaining forest habitat is formally protected and managed by either the Kenya Forest Service or the County Government (A. Ward-Francis in litt. 2016). Recent conservation work in the Taita Hills has resulted in reduced attrition of forests, and with plans to carry out reforestation and increase connectivity between forest patches, there is optimism that the extent and quality of habitat will improve.
As part of the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions programme for this species and Taita Thrush, the following actions have been planned or are underway:
1. Engaging stakeholders in the restoration of exotic plantations back to native forest, through selective clearance of exotic vegetation. This is targeted in areas for increasing forest connectivity including around Ngangao and Vuria (A. Ward-Francis in litt. 2016).
2. Income-generating activities including bee-keeping and butterfly-rearing have been initiated and farmers have been educated in environmentally responsible agriculture practices.
3. Targeted research and data collection on species specific threats and ecology is required to underpin conservation response, particularly into breeding ecology and nest predation.
4. Nature Kenya has initiated the development of local capacity through catalyzing the formation of a Site Support Group (SSG), which aims to enable local people to constructively engage in conservation of the IBA. This recently included the development of a community resource centre in Ngangago (A. Ward-Francis in litt. 2016).
5. Msidunyi Forest, a 6.28 ha area of forest habitat containing 6% of the global population of the species has been leased by Nature Kenya with funding from the World Land Trust, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the African Bird Club (Anon. 2015). Nature Kenya also plans to restore 115 ha of forest adjacent to Msidunyi Forest.
6. Through a Rainforest Trust grant, Nature Kenya have finalised the purchase of an additional land parcel, creating a habitat corridor between two forest fragments that support Taita Apalis (Borghesio and Githeru, no date).
Conservation and Research Actions Proposed
Study its ecology and continue to monitor its population size (L. Bennun in litt. 1999). This will allow for clearer estimates of the species's population trend and, if a severe decline is confirmed, research should be carried out into the possible causes. Continue to develop the outreach programme to local communities, in particular to promote the benefits of conserving the remaining forests (Brooks 1997, L. Bennun in litt. 1999). Draw up management plans based on the results of the ongoing ecological surveys, in close conjunction with the Forest Department and local communities (Brooks 1997, L. Bennun in litt. 1999). Remove non-native trees from within indigenous forest and restore biological connectivity between forest fragments by planting corridors of indigenous trees in the agricultural matrix (Brooks 1997, L. Bennun in litt. 1999, L. Borghesio in litt. 2016). Continue sustainable forest-use schemes based on ecotourism and the harvest of forest products (Brooks 1997, L. Bennun in litt. 1999). Protect the currently ungazetted Msidunyi forest (L. Borghesio in litt. 2012). Investigate the potential and impact of hybridization with A. thoracica. Develop a sustainable forest management plan and clarify the responsibilities of the different organisations that own and manage the different remaining patches of cloud forest (Teucher et al. 2020).
11-12 cm. Medium-sized, arboreal warbler. Sooty-grey upperparts, with darker wings and tail. Black throat and breast. White to off-white belly and vent. Silvery-white eyes. Voice Repeated call pilllipp pillipp, similar to Bar-throated Apalis (A. thoracica). Hints Easily found in forest patches in Taita Hills, Kenya.
Text account compilers
Ashpole, J, Bennun, L., Benstead, P., Bird, J., Borghesio, L., Ekstrom, J., Evans, M., Githiru, M., Lens, L., Martin, R., Shutes, S., Starkey, M., Symes, A., Taylor, J., Ward-Francis, A., Westrip, J.R.S. & Wright, L
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Apalis fuscigularis. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 14/08/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 14/08/2022.