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Prospects for monitoring bird migration along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway using weather radar

Shi X, Hu C, Soderholm J, Chapman J, Mao H, Cui K, Ma Z, Wu D & Fuller RA (2023) Prospects for monitoring bird migration along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway using weather radar. Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation, 9, 169–181.

Each year, billions of birds migrate across the globe, and interpretation of weather radar signals is increasingly being used to document the spatial and temporal migration patterns in Europe and America. Such approaches are yet to be applied in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (EAAF), one of the most species-rich and threatened flyways in the world. Logistical challenges limit direct on-ground monitoring of migratory birds in many parts of the EAAF, resulting in knowledge gaps on population status and site use that limit evidence-based conservation planning. Weather radar data have great potential for achieving comprehensive migratory bird monitoring along the EAAF. In this study, we discuss the feasibility and challenges of using weather radar to complement on-ground bird migration surveys in the flyway. We summarize the location, capacity and data availability of weather radars across EAAF countries, as well as the spatial coverage of the radars with respect to migrants’ geographic distribution and migration hotspots along the flyway, with an exemplar analysis of biological movement patterns extracted from Chinese weather radars. There are more than 430 weather radars in EAAF countries, covering on average half of bird species’ passage and non-breeding distributions, as well as 70% of internationally important sites for migratory shorebirds. We conclude that the weather radar network could be a powerful resource for monitoring bird movements over the full annual cycle throughout much of the EAAF, providing estimates of migration traffic rates, site use, and long-term population trends, especially in remote and less-surveyed regions. Analyses of weather radar data would complement existing ornithological surveys and help understand the past and present status of the avian community in a highly threatened flyway.

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