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Kiran Dhanjal-Adams reports from a shorebird conference in Adelaide

Rob Clemens, Kiran Dhanjal-Adams and Colin Studds attended the 8th Australasian Shorebird Conference in Adelaide on the 29-30 September. Attendants from across the East Asian- Australasian Flyway, from countries as wide ranging as Indonesia, China, Cambodia, New Zealand and Australia, met to present and discuss “The Role of Science in the Conservation of Shorebirds”.

The meeting kicked off with David Paton’s keynote talk on the “Ecological consequences for the Coorong from over-extraction of water in the Murray Darling Basin” and went on to cover a broad range of aspects of shorebird ecology, including that of both resident and migrant species. A variety of themes were discussed including migration, the ecology of migratory birds, resident shorebird ecology, Shorebirds in Saltworks, Flyway population monitoring and finally conservation and adaptive management.

Exciting results are coming from the geolocation work in Western Australia presented by Clive Minton and Ken Gosbell, as the migratory paths of Ruddy Turnstone, Eastern Curlew, Sanderling and Greater Sand Plover are unravelled. The team were also surprised to discover that the incubation behaviour of the birds could be detected when they sat on the nest, shielding the geolocators from the light. Danny Rogers went on to talk about the mystery of the Grey Plovers found in Australia, which are (almost) all female. The talks then focussed on the ecology and behaviour of shorebirds in response to factors as varied as departure times, lemming cycles, disease, algal blooms, ecological conditions and industrialisation.

After lunch was the turn of resident shorebirds to share the limelight. Reece Pedler and Stuart Collard shared some interesting insights on the boom-bust behaviour of Banded stilts while Grainne Maguire and Meghan Cullen discussed some of the amazing work they has been carrying out to protect beach-nesting Hooded Plovers. Indeed,  their work has not only helped maintain populations but has also shown that people are more likely to respond positively to shorebird protection in crowded areas due to peer pressure. Disturbance is therefore more of an issue in less-used sites as people are less likely to follow protective guidelines where no one is there to take note of or judge them for their misconduct.

The second day opened with much discussion on shorebirds in saltworks. The value of these sites as crucial roosting and feeding areas was underlined by many speakers; and is one of the few habitats in Thailand where it is still possible to religiously see the very rare spoonbill sandpiper. Rio Tinto, who own saltworks across the globe, highlighted their commitment to funding research, to protecting shorebirds wherever possible and to bringing this important issue to the attention of the industrial companies with whom they collaborate.

The final session focussed on monitoring and adaptive management. Here Rob presented some of the work carried out in the Fuller Lab by Nick Murray and Takuya Iwamura on declines in intertidal habitat and its effects on shorebird migration within the migratory network and has since been invited to talk in Korea next week. Kiran then presented her upcoming work on prioritising disturbance management in Moreton Bay. Other talks included population trends in the Hunter Estuary (Chris Herbert) and how to monitor the ecological character of RAMSAR sites.

Of this meeting came a renewed sense of how strongly connected all the sites are within the East Asian Australasian flyway; and that to achieve effective conservation outcomes for declining migratory shorebirds, all countries need to act together and decisively.

Related article: See Nick Murray’s recent news item in Oryx describing the 6th East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership meeting in Palembang, Sumatra