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The value of coastal saltpans for migratory shorebirds: conservation insights from a stable isotope approach based on feeding guild and body size
Lei, W.; Masero, J.A.; Dingle, C.; Liu, Y.; Chai, Z.; Zhu, B.; Peng, H.; Zhang, Z.; Piersma, T. (2021). The value of coastal saltpans for migratory shorebirds: conservation insights from a stable isotope approach based on feeding guild and body size. Anim. Conserv. 24(6): 1071-1083. https://dx.doi.org/10.1111/acv.12717
In: Animal Conservation. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge. ISSN 1367-9430; e-ISSN 1469-1795, more
Peer reviewed article  

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Author keywords
    East Asian-Australasian Flyway; man-made wetlands; shorebirds; stable isotopes; waders; water-surface foraging; Yellow Sea

Authors  Top 
  • Lei, W.
  • Masero, J.A.
  • Dingle, C.
  • Liu, Y.
  • Chai, Z.
  • Zhu, B.
  • Peng, H., more
  • Zhang, Z.
  • Piersma, T., more

Abstract
    Migratory shorebirds are among the most threatened groups of birds. They rely on natural intertidal habitats outside the breeding season, but, to some extent have adjusted to using man-made habitats. Here, we assessed the importance of coastal saltpans – a type of anthropogenic wetland – for feeding in migratory shorebirds during their northward migration along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (EAAF). We combined low tide counts on intertidal flats and nearby saltpans at the Luannan coastal wetland complex (Bohai Bay, China) with Bayesian mixing model analyses (BMMs) based on stable isotopes to evaluate the relative importance of coastal saltpans versus natural intertidal habitats as foraging grounds for migrating species. We grouped shorebird species (n = 24) according to feeding guild and body size, and found that both predictors explained the broad-scale patterns of foraging use of saltpans by shorebirds at low tide. The guild of water-surface foraging species (e.g. stilts and avocets), independently of body size, mostly fed in saltpans, and the small-medium visual (e.g. plovers) and tactile-surface (e.g. sandpipers) foraging species consumed a significant portion of their diet in this habitat. In contrast, most large tactile-surface foraging species barely foraged in saltpans at low tide. BMMs showed that shorebirds had a greater reliance on saltpans than did traditional counts of foraging birds in each habitat at low tide. Saltpan food is rich in essential fatty acids, so the contribution of saltpans to the diet of shorebirds should not be considered only in absolute values, but also in the quality of this contribution. Saltpans may therefore help conserve declining shorebirds if properly managed – for example by controlling water levels – to serve the specific feeding guilds that rely on them. While our focus is in the EAAF, the findings are relevant for other flyways and other non-tidal anthropogenic wetlands.

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