Study on shorebirds suggests not all land is equal for conserving species

Written by
Morgan Kelly
Morgan Kelly, High Meadows Environmental Institute
June 9, 2020

Princeton University researchers may have solved a long-standing mystery in conservation that could influence how natural lands are designated for the preservation of endangered species.

By closely examining 17 migratory shorebirds at two critical stopovers along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, the researchers found that upper tidal flats appear to be especially important to most shorebirds.  

Tidal flats are the areas between dry land and the sea. Upper tidal flats are those parts of the flats closest to dry land. Because upper tidal flats are more prone to coastal development, the findings could help explain why shorebird populations depending on that slice of land have declined much faster than the overall rate of tidal flat loss. Indeed, the study showed that the upper tidal flats supported 70% of the birds' cumulative foraging time.

The work highlights the importance of protecting upper tidal flats to conserve migratory shorebirds. It also demonstrates the value of gaining a detailed ecological understanding of habitat usage by migratory animals when planning conservation strategies for species.

Migratory animals play vital ecological roles in ecosystems worldwide, yet many species are threatened by human activities.

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