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Migratory waterbirds: early warning system for climate change


Wetlands International sets the global standard for research into waterbird numbers and distribution at continental scales, and the role of waterbirds as indicators of climate change is an increasingly important element of this work.

Most waterbird species disperse widely during the summer breeding season in Europe, but on migration and in winter, they often congregate in high numbers at a relatively small number of sites. In f the African-Eurasian Flyway, a frequent pattern is for waterbirds to breed in vast numbers but at low density in the tundra zone of northern Russia, from where they migrate to winter destinations such as the Inner Niger Delta and lake Chad in West Africa . En route they stop at vital “refuelling stations” such as the Dutch-German Danish Wadden Sea, where they fatten up on a rich diversity of invertebrate prey which will sustain them on the next leg of their journey. Most species are dependent on a chain of such sites between their breeding areas and their wintering areas, and damage or destruction of just one link in the chain can have disastrous effects on waterbird survival.

Climate change is predicted to disrupt this pattern in a number of ways.  The thawing of the tundra zone and its northward shift into the Arctic Ocean are likely to greatly reduce both the extent and quality of these breeding habitats.  Sea level rise will reduce the extent of intertidal areas such as the Wadden Sea, reducing possibilities for waterbirds to feed. Finally, drought is expected to alter flooding regimes at enormous floodplains in Africa such as the Inner Niger Delta and Lake Chad, reducing areas suitable for waterbirds at the end of their great migrations.
An increase in severity and intensity of droughts at wetlands in arid and semi arid regions will also have adverse effects - many waterbirds are dependent on wetlands in these regions during their annual migration and during nesting.

Wetlands International’s continental scale waterbird and wetland monitoring programmes are providing vital information (which is updated every year) about the impact of climate change on the worlds wetlands – areas that are also crucial for man. One programme is following Garganeys  (a duck species which migrates from Eurasia to Africa and Asia) fitted with satellite transmitters. These record their daily movements with great accuracy and provide insight in grater detail than has ever previously been possible.. See the link to follow these birds on our map.

The most extensive Wetlands International waterbird monitoring programme is the International Waterbird Census under which around 40 million waterbirds are counted every year at around 15,000 wetlands in over 100 countries with the help of thousands of expert volunteers. The outcomes of all this work are globally combined in the triennial publication Waterbird Population Estimates.

Today, we present the latest developments in Asia in the publication of the latest results of the Asia- Pacific Waterbird Census. In this programme, hundreds of bird specialists support us in monitoring birds at 2,032wetland sites in 22 countries. A total of about 8 million waterbirds of  274 species have been recorded in the Asia-Pacific region each year. This new publication is available to view, download here or to purchase.


More information:
Alex Kaat
+31 (0)6 5060 1917

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