written by Hela Boughdiri

In late March 2022, a team from ÉLVONAL group led for the first time a study on the Kentish plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) in Tunisia. The main goal of this study was to evaluate the abundance, the distribution, the nests characteristics as well as the breeding status of this species on the Eastern coast of Tunisia. In addition, the team conducted an experimental investigation of the nest site preferences of male and female Kentish plover parents.

The team surveyed locations across the Eastern coast of Tunisia between the 29th of March 2022 until the 3rd of April 2022. Locations were selected on previously identified potentially suitable wetland and lake regions, Google satellite images, local expert knowledge and accessibility for observers. The site selection thus focused on potentially suitable Kentish Plover breeding habitats including lakes, salt marshes, salt pans, ponds and coastal shores. The final surveyed locations included a diversity of habitats, ranging from semi-desert regions, Salinas, coastal shores and public beaches.

Figure 1: Map of Mahres fishpond, Tunisia, the site of detailed population monitoring fieldwork

Overall, 46 points across 5 main locations were surveyed including Sfax (34° 17.20″N, 10° 50.22″E), Kerkennah Archipelago (34° 58.33″N, 11° 3.55″E), Kneiss Island (34° 49.54″N, 10° 40.79″E), Monastir Salina (35°23.79″N, 10° 31.66″E) and Mahres Fishpond (34° 25.616’N, 10° 20.851’E), see figure 2.

Figure 2: Map of Tunisia (brown) showing all sampling points across five locations as part of Kentish plover surveys

Detailed population monitoring was focused, mainly conducted in the Mahres Fishpond between April 4th and July 30th 2022 (Fig. 1). This site is considered as a part of the Kneiss Natural Reserve and classified as a Ramsar wetland site since 2007 (34°25.616’N, 10° 20.851’E). The habitat is not only suitable for Kentish plover breeding population but it is a site for other breeding species as Burhinus oedicnemus, Tringa tetanus, Sternula albifrons, Sterna hirundo and Chroicocephalus genei.

In total 118 nests were found in 5 different locations distributed as follows: 1 nest in Sfax, 1 nest in the Kerkennah Archipelago, 2 nests in Monastir, 3 nests in the islands of Kneiss and 109 nests in the Mahres fish pond which is the main study site and the focus of detailed population monitoring, plus a further 3 nests in a closely located El Chaffar-Mahres site.

ÉLVONAL group aims to continue its research in Tunisia given that the site presents a promising location for future ecological and behavioural studies of Kentish plovers in Tunisia.