Migratory shorebirds could face extinction within a decade

Source by: Wildlife Extra


Migrating shorebirds that travel to Australia from Siberia are under serious threat from development, which is destroying the vital feeding grounds they rely on during the epic journey.

Director of Deakin University’s Centre for Integrative Ecology Professor Marcel Klaassen, along with other researchers, is examining the migratory behaviour of shorebirds to see how they cope with changes in their environments. Their findings to date have been concerning, and reveal that there has been a dramatic drop in the number of migratory shorebirds arriving in Australia.


Director of Deakin University’s Centre for Integrative Ecology, Professor Marcel Klaassen, with a greater sand plover bearing a geolocator, shortly before its release and take-off for its breeding grounds in Mongolia from Broome, Western Australia © 2008 Wildlife Extra

Alarmed by the statistics, Klaassen states, “The rate of decline among some of these bird species is such a dramatic drop in numbers as to be truly depressing. For instance, the rate of decline in numbers of one of these, the Curlew sandpiper, is a staggering 10 per cent per year which means they face extinction within a decade.’’

Klaassen recently met with other leading avian experts at the 9th Australasian Shorebird Conference, which took place in Darwin. The conference highlighted that the situation for shorebirds has worsened in the past two years, which Klaassen called ‘the worst case scenario’.

According to research undertaken by Klaassen, massive development in the Yellow Sea region with its tidal flats and wetlands, which the birds have traditionally relied on for food to fuel them on their vast voyage, has been particularly damaging. “These shorebirds rely on a chain of suitable habitats along their 15,000km route,” he explains. “If, in that chain, there is a weak link, they are doomed.’’

During their flights between Siberia and Australia, which cover tens of thousands of kilometres, the birds lose two-thirds of their total body weight on their journey.

Speaking about findings presented at the conference, Klaassen commented, “An endless number of papers were presented at the conference that painted the bleakest picture of the imminent collapse of some of the world’s greatest and most remarkable bird species.

“Almost every paper that was presented painted a picture of incalculable loss of shorebirds on their flight paths and the situation as it was depicted was the most depressing look at the future imaginable.”

Klaassen and other avian experts are calling for collaboration and cooperation between governments from the countries covered by the migratory flight paths of the birds in order to protect them and their habitats.

Klaassen’s team at Deakin University are using geolocators to track key sites the birds visit in order to better understand what allows them to successfully migrate, and to find out what type of fuel management is needed en route.


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