By Sajad Ghanbari and Samuel Turvey.
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Nearly 13% of assessed species in Iran are threatened with extinction, and a further 14% are near to qualifying for threatened status. Several of these species represent global conservation priorities, but identification of targeted management activities is often hindered by limited data on their status, distribution, and specific threats. One such species is the Caucasian grouse or Caucasian black grouse (Lyrurus mlokosiewiczi), which is assessed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Near Threatened. This species is endemic to the Caucasus Ecoregion, occurring within montane habitats in Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, northeastern Turkey, and northwestern Iran.
We conducted an interview survey in rural communities in the Arasbaran Biosphere Reserve, Iran, and collected local ecological knowledge (LEK) from 95 respondents within villages situated close to the locations of surviving and extirpated grouse populations.
LEK is shown to be a useful tool for assessing the status of grouse populations; 41.1% of respondents recognized grouse and 30.5% had seen the species, and respondents within villages close to surviving populations had greater awareness, sighting likelihood, and more recent sightings. Significantly more respondents considered that grouse and other galliform birds had declined in comparison to other wildlife. Reported levels of past and present hunting were low, reportedly because grouse were rare or had declined. Survival of grouse populations was statistically associated with low local cattle ownership and high local sheep ownership. Respondents considered that grouse had declined because of increased vegetation density in rangelands formerly harvested for forage, and suggested that controlled harvesting within grouse habitat could protect the species. These findings provide a new baseline to define conservation management strategies for this species.