Maintaining estuary quality for shorebirds: Towards simple guidelines

This source preferred by Richard Stillman

Authors: West, A.D., Goss-Custard, J.D., Durell, S.E.A.L.V.D. and Stillman, R.A.

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Journal: Biological Conservation

Volume: 123

Pages: 211-224

ISSN: 0006-3207

DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2004.11.010

It is increasingly important to be able to monitor and maintain the quality of estuaries for overwintering shorebirds. Bird numbers alone are not sufficient to indicate quality nor, as recent research shows, can it be assumed that site quality is being maintained simply because there is enough food to meet the birds’ physiological demands; i.e., the amount of food available per bird in autumn needs to be greater than the amount eaten. But how much greater? We used a simple individuals-based and behaviour-based model to explore the factors that affect the relationship between overwinter mortality and the amount of food available per bird in autumn (the food:bird ratio). The aims were to explore how the natural history characteristics of a shorebird species affected the shape of this relationship, in order to identify characteristics of the system that should be included in any monitoring programme of site quality. In all cases there was a minimum threshold food:bird ratio above which mortality did not vary and below which mortality increased steadily. The amount of food per bird required at the threshold varied from one to six times the amount actually consumed by each bird during winter, depending on the amount of realism included in the model. The minimum threshold ratio was most strongly influenced by the shape of the relationship between intake rate and prey density – the functional response – and, when interference competition occurred, by the distribution of the birds’ main food supply. Simulations with realistic spatial distributions of prey predicted that the minimum required amount of food per bird would be between two and five times the amount actually consumed. The threshold approach could provide a simple method of monitoring estuary quality based on food supply and bird numbers. It also provides a potentially clearly-defined and unambiguous measure of the carrying capacity of a site. If applied to a sufficient number of real estuaries, general guidelines for maintaining estuary quality based on estuary characteristics, food supply and bird species might be established.

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Authors: West, A.D., Goss-Custard, J.D., Dit Durell, S.E.A.L.V. and Stillman, R.A.

Journal: Biological Conservation

Volume: 123

Issue: 2

Pages: 211-224

ISSN: 0006-3207

DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2004.11.010

It is increasingly important to be able to monitor and maintain the quality of estuaries for overwintering shorebirds. Bird numbers alone are not sufficient to indicate quality nor, as recent research shows, can it be assumed that site quality is being maintained simply because there is enough food to meet the birds' physiological demands; i.e., the amount of food available per bird in autumn needs to be greater than the amount eaten. But how much greater? We used a simple individuals-based and behaviour-based model to explore the factors that affect the relationship between overwinter mortality and the amount of food available per bird in autumn (the food:bird ratio). The aims were to explore how the natural history characteristics of a shorebird species affected the shape of this relationship, in order to identify characteristics of the system that should be included in any monitoring programme of site quality. In all cases there was a minimum threshold food:bird ratio above which mortality did not vary and below which mortality increased steadily. The amount of food per bird required at the threshold varied from one to six times the amount actually consumed by each bird during winter, depending on the amount of realism included in the model. The minimum threshold ratio was most strongly influenced by the shape of the relationship between intake rate and prey density - the functional response - and, when interference competition occurred, by the distribution of the birds' main food supply. Simulations with realistic spatial distributions of prey predicted that the minimum required amount of food per bird would be between two and five times the amount actually consumed. The threshold approach could provide a simple method of monitoring estuary quality based on food supply and bird numbers. It also provides a potentially clearly-defined and unambiguous measure of the carrying capacity of a site. If applied to a sufficient number of real estuaries, general guidelines for maintaining estuary quality based on estuary characteristics, food supply and bird species might be established. © 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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