Migratory birds 'lack world protection'

Helen Briggs BBC News 4 Dec 15;

More than 90% of migratory birds are poorly protected on their marathon journeys around the world, according to research.

Many birds are at risk when they stop to feed, rest or breed en route, say scientists.

They are calling for new reserves around the world to protect migratory species.

Most migratory birds have declined in past decades, from threats such as habitat loss and hunting.

Migrant birds are the endurance fliers of the bird kingdom, making remarkable journeys across land and sea.

The arctic tern, for example, flies the equivalent of the distance to the Moon and back three times in its lifetime.

And the bar-tailed godwit may fly for more than 10,000km (6,000 miles) in a single stint, the longest continuous journey that has ever been recorded for a land bird.

Dr Claire Runge, of the University of Queensland, the lead researcher of the study, said more than half of migratory bird species travelling the world's main flyways had suffered serious population declines in the past 30 years.

"This is due mainly to unequal and ineffective protection across their migratory range and the places they stop to refuel along their routes," she said.

"A typical migratory bird relies on many different geographic locations throughout its annual cycle for food, rest and breeding.

"So even if we protect most of their breeding grounds, it's still not enough - threats somewhere else can affect the entire population."

Filling the gaps

In the study, published in Science, researchers from Australia, the US and the UK looked at protected areas within the global routes of almost 1,500 types of migratory bird.

They found only 9% of species were fully protected across their range, compared with 45% for bird species that did not migrate.

"Migratory birds have a particular set of conservation needs and we found that these are not being adequately met compared with resident species," Dr Stuart Butchart, of BirdLife International, in Cambridge, told BBC News.

The research found that countries such as France and Venezuela meet targets for protected area coverage for more than 80% of migratory bird species whereas others such as China and India meet targets for less than 10%.

But it is not just developing nations losing their birds due to a lack of protection.

Many Central American countries meet the targets for more than 75% of their migratory species, but the same species have lower levels of protection in Canada and the US.

Prof Richard Fuller, of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions, in Australia, said there was an urgent need to coordinate protected areas across the birds' full migration route.

"We need to work together far more effectively round the world if we want our migratory birds to survive into the future," he said.

Habitat loss seen as rising threat to world's migratory birds
Will Dunham PlanetArk 4 Dec 15;

Habitat destruction along routes taken by the world's migratory birds poses an increasing peril to these long-distance fliers, with a vast majority crossing terrain that nations are inadequately protecting, according to scientists.

The researchers said on Thursday they tracked the migratory routes, stopover locations, breeding grounds and wintering locations of 1,451 migratory species and assessed about 450,000 protected areas like national parks and other reserves.

They found 1,324 species, about 91 percent, journeyed through locales that were not safeguarded from threats like development.

"This is important because migratory species cover vast distances and rely on an intact series of habitats in which they can rest and feed on their long journeys," said conservation scientist Richard Fuller of the Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) and the University of Queensland.

"If even a single link in this chain of sites is lost for a species, it could lead to major declines or even its extinction."

The birds traverse many different countries where conservation efforts vary.

The problem was most acute in North Africa, Central Asia and along the coasts of East Asia. Countries in these regions maintain relatively few protected areas, and existing ones do not overlap sufficiently with the routes of migratory birds.

For small birds, the opportunity to feed and build up energy reserves for the next leg of their journeys is essential for survival, said conservation scientist Claire Runge of CEED, the University of Queensland and the University of California, Santa Barbara.

"Loss of these critical sites means they no longer have the energy needed to make the journeys, and they simply perish along the way," Runge said.

The bar-tailed godwit is a bird that migrates from Arctic breeding grounds to Australia and New Zealand. Along the way, the birds stop to rest and feed at Yellow Sea mudflats in China, North Korea and South Korea.

"Many of these critical sites have been lost to land reclamation owing to urban, industrial and agricultural expansion, and the species is undergoing a rapid decline," Runge said.

Runge called for creating new protected areas in key locations, improving management of existing protected areas and coordinating conservation actions across international borders.

"Common migratory species have been lost in the past, for example the Eskimo curlew, and our world gets poorer every time we lose a species," Fuller said.

The research was published in the journal Science.

(Editing by Sandra Maler)

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