Widespread use of artificial habitats by shorebirds in Australia

Date: 08, Feb, 2021
Author(s):   Jackson, M.V., Woodworth, B.K., Bush, R., Clemens, R.S., Fuller, R.A., Garnett, S.T., Lilleyman, A., Maron, M., Purnell, C., Rogers, D.I., Amano, T.
Publisher: Emu - Austral Ornithology

Shorebirds in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway have experienced population declines linked to loss of coastal wetlands. Despite this vulnerability to habitat loss, shorebirds regularly use artificial habitats, especially for high-tide roosting. Understanding the distribution of shorebirds in artificial versus natural roosts could inform habitat management strategies aimed at population recovery. We analysed time-series of high-tide shorebird monitoring data from five developed regions of Australia where artificial habitat use has previously been documented and made three key discoveries. First, artificial habitat use was generally high across the regions, with >50% of the average proportion of the regional population of 39 of 75 species-region combinations (52%) using artificial habitats at high tide. Second, in 84% of species-region combinations the average proportion of birds that used artificial habitats from the time of their establishment onward did not show a significant temporal trend. Third, migratory and coastal specialist species showed lower proportional artificial habitat use than non-migratory and generalist/inland specialist species. These findings showing consistent, widespread use of artificial habitats by large shorebird aggregations at high tide suggest that a framework for high-tide habitat management that includes artificial habitats alongside preservation of remaining natural habitats could make a significant contribution to shorebird conservation in Australia.