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Connecting Communities across the Americas

Shorebirds and Wetlands

Matt Reiter, PhD


Western Sandpipers. Photos by Peter LaTourrette / www.birdphotography.com.
PRBO and partners have launched an international project that will use research findings to guide the management of critical wetlands and agricultural lands throughout the Americas during a time of rapid environmental change. The Migratory Shorebird Project is a ten-year, multi-national research and outreach effort to shape wetland conservation for the benefit of birds and people.

We are already coordinating the study of over one million shorebirds at more than 2,000 sites, in seven countries, on two continents, making it the largest coordinated survey ever of wintering shorebirds on the Pacific Coast of the Americas. In coming years, the project will provide management and conservation recommendations locally, while expanding widely to connect communities concerned with our vital wetlands and the shorebirds that depend on them. “This project helps local communities understand that they are connected to other countries through shorebirds that visit their wetland in only part of the year,” notes partner Richard Johnston(1) of Colombia.

Important places for shorebirds are also important places for people. Along the Pacific coast, estuaries, bays, wetlands, mangroves, and farmlands support millions of shorebirds as well as major regional economies, recreation, and tourism. Crucial in an age of climate change, coastal wetlands provide natural flood control, buffering against the impacts of sea level rise and intense storms, and they store carbon.
Members of a coastal community in Colombia participate in the international Migratory Shorebird Project. Photo by Richard Johnston / Asociacion Calidris.

Even as these natural benefits are increasingly recognized, the quality and quantity of wetlands are rapidly changing. Declining populations of shorebirds are likely strong indicators of the environmental changes taking place in wetland ecosystems. Threats facing migratory shorebirds range from habitat loss and pollution to the impacts of climate change. In coastal tidal wetlands, sea-level rise and increased winter storm severity will likely reduce habitat availability, while in interior habitats, such as flooded agriculture and freshwater wetlands, water availability will be less stable, reducing the future reliability of shorebird habitat.

In order to develop effective adaptation strategies, we need to better understand these threats and their relative contributions to shorebird population declines. The Migratory Shorebird Project is a network of concerned scientists and citizens seeking the knowledge needed, across an extensive geographic region, to support this wide-ranging group of birds. Says Dr. Eduardo Palacios(2) of Mexico, “We can better understand the benefits of local management and conservation actions—including agricultural flooding and the reduction of human disturbance—by evaluating the habitat conditions and distribution of shorebirds both locally and across their winter ranges.”

Innovative integration of the data we gather, through PRBO’s California Avian Data Center, a powerful online resource (www.prbo.org/cadc), will result in an accessible framework where wetland managers, conservation practitioners, and citizen scientists can all share information.

More than 350 people and 30 partner organizations and agencies have participated in the project to date. By training and involving volunteers, we are emphasizing the importance of wetlands for people and shorebirds. We appreciate the participation of so many people in this important effort and welcome others to join our Migratory Shorebird Project.

To volunteer at a site near you in the United States, contact Khara Strum at kstrum@prbo.org or 415-868-0371 ext. 308. To find international partners, and to learn more, please visit www.migratoryshorebirdproject.org.

Footnotes:

(1)Richard Johnston is affiliated with Asociacion Calidris, in Colombia.

(2)Dr. Palacios is associated with Mexico.’s Centro de Investigación Científica y de Educación Superior de Ensenada (CICESE) and Grupo Aves del Noroeste.