The plains-wanderer (Pedionomus torquatus) is a bird, the only representative of family Pedionomidae and genus Pedionomus. It is endemic to Australia. The majority of the remaining population is found in the Riverina region of New South Wales.
The plains-wanderer is a quail-like ground bird, measuring 15–19 cm. It is such an atypical bird that it is placed in an entire family of its own, Pedionomidae. The adult male is light brown above, with fawn-white underparts with black crescents. The adult female is substantially larger than the males, and has a distinctive white-spotted black collar. They are excellent camouflagers, and will first hide at any disturbance. If they're approached too close, they will run as opposed to flying, which they are very poor at. Females lay four eggs, which the male then incubates.
It was formerly believed to be related to the buttonquails and thus placed in the gamebird order Galliformes or with the cranes and rails in Gruiformes. DNA-DNA hybridization and RAG-1 sequence data places it as a wader related to the jacanas (Sibley & Ahlquist 1990, Paton et al. 2003, Thomas et al. 2004, van Tuinen et al. 2004). It thus represents a remarkable case of morphological convergence, or perhaps it is simply extremely plesiomorphic in morphology (the buttonquails, meanwhile, having turned out to be a very basal offshoot of the wader radiation). In the latter case, this would mean that the jacanas, painted snipe and seedsnipes – all ecologically very different birds – all evolved from birds very similar to the living plains-wanderer.
Status and conservation
Population decline has been caused by the conversion of native grasslands to cultivation and intensive predation by the introduced fox — the species' ground-nesting habits, poor flying ability, and tendency to run rather than fly from predators make it easy prey for the introduced fox. Sites identified by BirdLife International as being important for plains-wanderer conservation are Boolcoomatta, Bindarrah and Kalkaroo Stations in north-eastern South Australia, Diamantina and Astrebla Grasslands in western Queensland, Patho Plains in northern Victoria and the Riverina Plains in New South Wales.
This bird is listed as Critically Endangered on the 2018 IUCN Red List.
Plains-wanderers are listed as Critically Endangered on the Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC). Their conservation status also varies from state to state within Australia. For example:
- The plains-wanderer is listed as Critically Endangered on the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act (1988). Under this Act, an Action Statement for the recovery and future management of this species has been prepared.
- The plains-wanderer is listed as Endangered on Schedule 1 of the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (now Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016).
A captive population was established in late-2018 within a purpose-built facility containing 30 aviaries at Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo. These captive individuals will form an insurance population as part of a breed-and-release program to support the wild population.
- BirdLife International. 2018. Pedionomus torquatus (amended version of 2017 assessment). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T22693049A129603542. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T22693049A129603542.en. Downloaded on 01 January 2019.
- Archibald, George W. (1991). Forshaw, Joseph (ed.). Encyclopaedia of Animals: Birds. London: Merehurst Press. p. 101. ISBN 978-1-85391-186-6.
- Baker‐Gabb, David; Antos, Mark; Brown, Geoff (2016). "Recent decline of the critically endangered Plains-wanderer (Pedionomus torquatus), and the application of a simple method for assessing its cause: major changes in grassland structure". Ecological Management & Restoration. 17 (3): 235–242. doi:10.1111/emr.12221. ISSN 1442-8903.
- "Plains-wanderer". Important Bird Areas. BirdLife International. 2012. Retrieved 2012-11-04.
- Department of Sustainability and Environment - information on status Archived 2005-07-18 at the Wayback Machine
- Department of Sustainability and Environment - Action Statement Archived 2006-09-11 at the Wayback Machine
- "Dubbo Zoo welcomes two critically endangered chicks". Daily Liberal. 2020-04-14. Retrieved 2020-04-17.
- Paton, T. A.; Baker, A. J.; Groth, J. G. & Barrowclough, G. F. (2003): RAG-1 sequences resolve phylogenetic relationships within charadriiform birds. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 29: 268–278. doi:10.1016/S1055-7903(03)00098-8 PMID 13678682 (HTML abstract)
- Sibley, Charles Gald & Ahlquist, Jon Edward (1990): Phylogeny and classification of birds. Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn.
- Thomas, Gavin H.; Wills, Matthew A. & Székely, Tamás (2004): A supertree approach to shorebird phylogeny. BMC Evol. Biol. 4: 28. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-4-28 PMID 15329156 PDF fulltext[permanent dead link] Supplementary Material[permanent dead link]
- van Tuinen, Marcel; Waterhouse, David & Dyke, Gareth J. (2004): Avian molecular systematics on the rebound: a fresh look at modern shorebird phylogenetic relationships. Journal of Avian Biology 35(3): 191–194. PDF fulltext
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