Using the GPS positions of foraging Northern Bald Ibises during the breeding season in 2021, the authors identified habitats with a high foraging suitability. They characterized them by seven satellite-based remote sensing parameters to define a suitability index. Subsequently, the suitability of feeding sites throughout the northern Alpine foothills were modelled. This study is of particular importance for the reintroduction project, since the suitability map allows the identification of sites for management and translocation measures in the future.
The Northern Bald Ibis is an endangered migratory species, which went extinct in Europe in the 17th century. Currently, a translocation project in the frame of the European LIFE program is carried out, to reintroduce a migratory population with breeding colonies in the northern and southern Alpine foothills and a common wintering area in southern Tuscany. The population meanwhile consists of about 200 individuals, with about 90% of them carrying a GPS device on their back. We used biologging data from 2021 to model the habitat suitability for the species in the northern Alpine foothills. To set up a species distribution model, indices describing environmental conditions were calculated from satellite images of Landsat-8, and in addition to the well-proven use of optical remote sensing data, we also included Sentinel-1 actively sensed observation data, as well as climate and urbanization data. A random forest model was fitted on NBI GPS positions, which we used to identify regions with high predicted foraging suitability within the northern Alpine foothills. The model resulted in 84.5% overall accuracy. Elevation and slope had the highest predictive power, followed by grass cover and VV intensity of Sentinel-1 radar data. The map resulting from the model predicts the highest foraging suitability for valley floors, especially of Inn, Rhine, and Salzach-Valley as well as flatlands, like the Swiss Plateau and the agricultural areas surrounding Lake Constance. Areas with a high suitability index largely overlap with known historic breeding sites. This is particularly noteworthy because the model only refers to foraging habitats without considering the availability of suitable breeding cliffs. Detailed analyses identify the transition zone from extensive grassland management to intensive arable farming as the northern range limit. The modeling outcome allows for defining suitable areas for further translocation and management measures in the frame of the European NBI reintroduction program. Although required in the international IUCN translocation guidelines, the use of models in the context of translocation projects is still not common and in the case of the Northern Bald Ibis not considered in the present Single Species Action Plan of the African-Eurasian Migratory Water bird Agreement. Our species distribution model represents a contemporary snapshot, but sustainability is essential for conservation planning, especially in times of climate change. In this regard, a further model could be optimized by investigating sustainable land use, temporal dynamics, and climate change scenarios.