Threats and opportunities for conserving migrating shorebirds within a productive coastal landscape in Southeast Asia

This blog post is part of the blog series ‘Authors in Asia’, to accompany the recent Virtual Issue in Journal of Applied Ecology. You can read other posts in this series here.

In this post Jonathan Green, Siriya Sripanomyom, Xingli Giam and David Wilcove discuss their manuscript ‘The ecology and economics of shorebird conservation in a tropical human-modified landscape’. They look at the difficulties migrating shorebirds face due to land use changes and how management can be improved for conservation of these species.  

Jonathan Green’s research is based around understanding the decisions that people make regarding the environment and, more specifically, how these relate to the distribution of costs and benefits. He also works with the private sector to demonstrate the impacts and dependencies of supply chains on the natural environment. Siriya Sripanomyom is an independent conservation ecologist and avid birder. His research includes investigations into the ecology and conservation of shorebirds and work on Buddhist forest monasteries in Thailand to understand their biodiversity conservation value as well as local perceptions towards them. Xingli Giam’s research aims to identify and mitigate some of the world’s most pressing and emerging anthropogenic threats to the environment by integrating field investigations with modern quantitative methods. He is also interested in macroecology, community ecology, and ecological statistics. David Wilcove’s research focuses on biodiversity conservation, especially in Asia.  He is especially interested in combining ecology and the social sciences to develop practical, effective solutions to threats to species and wildlands.

The East Asian–Australasian Flyway is host to some truly extraordinary shorebird species that demonstrate the enormous diversity of the natural world: from the incredible stamina exhibited by the Bar-tailed godwit that, in crossing the eleven and a half thousand miles of Pacific Ocean between Alaska and New Zealand, recently made the longest recorded non-stop flight of any bird, down to the diminutive but hugely charismatic Spoon-billed sandpiper, whose spatulate bill is unique amongst shorebirds. Both species however, have suffered dramatic declines.

Spoon-billed Sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus), Pak Thale, Petchaburi, Thailand. Photo credit: JJ Harrison, Wikimedia Commons.

For these and other shorebirds that migrate through the densely populated coastal areas of East and Southeast Asia, dramatic land use changes over the past century have made it increasingly difficult for them to access the resources they need to undertake their astonishing long-distance migrations. In the Inner Gulf of Thailand, an important stopover and wintering site, natural high tide roost habitat has been largely replaced by salt pans and aquaculture ponds.

Mudflats are important foraging grounds for the shorebirds. Photo credit: Jonathan Green.
salt pans
Salt pans extend over large areas providing shallow water and dry areas in which birds can roost and forage. The salt pans are well visited by bird watchers. Photo credit: Jonathan Green.

We devised a study to assess both the ecological importance of these land uses for shorebirds and also their economic importance to local livelihoods. We found that salt pans provide an important resource to migrating shorebirds, but as development pressures increase, operators may need financial incentives if they are to be maintained over large areas. Although semi-traditional aquaculture ponds are used less by shorebirds, drained ponds provide opportunities to roost and forage. It is vital to better understand how particular land uses and management practices affect feeding and roosting prospects for shorebirds and, where possible in this densely populated region of the world, opportunities should be sought to manage land in a way that reconciles the needs of shorebirds with those of the local human population. Optimizing aquaculture pond and salt pan management for shorebirds could provide a pragmatic and cost-effective solution to conserving habitat for these birds.

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