Rest Stop Closed

Every year, millions of birds swoop along the coasts of Asia and Australia as part of a massive migration. These long-distance commuters stop at wetlands to refuel. But rising seas could erase many of the birds’ rest stops, putting populations at risk, scientists warn.

The researchers studied 10 shorebird species, including curlew sandpipers, red knots, and bar-tailed godwits. Then the team calculated how 50 to 300 centimeters of sea-level rise would affect 163 of the birds’ rest sites, which stretch from Russia to New Zealand.

Sea-level rise could wipe out 13 to 64 percent of that habitat, the researchers report in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. And the loss could have a big impact on bird populations. If about one-third of the rest stop habitat disappears — as predicted in the 150-centimeter sea-level rise scenario — the population flow of some bird species could drop by roughly two-thirds. While it’s possible that the birds could find new places to refuel, some species “follow extremely tight flight schedules suggesting little room to adapt to major changes in flyway condition,” the authors write. Roberta Kwok | 30 April 2013

Source: Iwamura, T. et al. 2013. Migratory connectivity magnifies the consequences of habitat loss from sea-level rise for shorebird populations. Proceedings of the Royal Society B doi: 10.1098/rspb.2013.0325.

Image © iliuta goean |