2 Jul 2018

This month in science: albatross disease risk, Danish farmland bird decline

We present the highlights of the latest issue of Bird Conservation International, our quarterly peer-reviewed journal promoting worldwide research and action for the conservation of birds and their habitats.

Avian cholera threatens the Sooty Albatross © Ross Wanless
By Hannah Wheatley

Read the full issue of Bird Conservation International here: 



On the cover: albatrosses and large petrels at risk from disease?


Large, dense colonies spread disease in species like the Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross © JJ Harrison


Seabirds are declining across the world, with albatrosses and large petrels especially threatened. Caught as bycatch by fishing boats, eaten by mice, rats or cats, or killed by plastic pollution, these species face multiple threats. Due to their geographic isolation and dense breeding colonies, they are particularly vulnerable to outbreaks of disease, but not much is known about the scale of this danger.

Here, the authors review current knowledge of the impact of diseases on albatrosses and large petrels. They find that diseases are prevalent, with avian cholera posing the greatest threat, and poxvirus commonly found. Yet there is a serious lack of research into diseases in albatrosses and large petrels, particularly in those species that are globally threatened. Further research is urgently needed to ensure that the threat of disease is not overlooked in these highly imperilled species. Read the full report here.


Danish farmland birds continue to decline


Farmland specialists like the Northern Lapwing are declining faster than other birds © Andy Hay


Farmland birds have declined across Europe. The European Commission’s 2020 EU biodiversity strategy aims to stop biodiversity loss by 2020, including by making agricultural policy better for wildlife.

In this study, authors including staff from DOF (BirdLife in Denmark) tested whether the strategy has made a difference in Denmark, a country with a high proportion of intensively-farmed land, by looking at trends in farmland birds from 1987-2014. They found that 16 species specialising in farmland habitat, and especially those nesting on the ground, have declined more quickly than other common breeding birds. The study indicates that these declines have been caused by changes in agricultural practices in Denmark, rather than by factors affecting migrants elsewhere during their annual cycle. Read the full report here.


Reclamation of Yellow Sea stopover site leads to wader declines


The number of waders such as the Great Knot has declined by 75% at the site © JJ Harrison


Waders migrating between Siberia, East Asia and Australia rely on tidal mudflats to stop off and refuel during their journey. Many of these species are now threatened by the reclamation of mudflats for development, particularly in the Yellow Sea. The Saemangeum tidal flat in South Korea is one such site: formerly used by hundreds of thousands of migrating shorebirds, in 2006 a wall was built and the site was separated from the Yellow Sea.

This paper shows the catastrophic impact of the development on waders: following construction of the wall, the number of waders at Saemangeum and the nearby Geum Estuary fell by 74%. This study emphasizes the importance of conservation measures to restore and protect wetland habitat for migratory waders. Read the full report here. 


Also in this issue:


Population estimate of Trindade Petrel Pterodroma arminjoniana by the use of Predictive Nest Habitat Modelling

Albatrosses bathe before departing on a foraging trip: implications for risk assessments and marine spatial planning

Nest site selection of South Georgia Diving-petrels Pelecanoides georgicus on Codfish Island, New Zealand: implications for conservation management

The potential breeding range of Slender-billed Curlew Numenius tenuirostris identified from stable-isotope analysis

Discovery of an important wintering site of the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper Calidris pygmaea in the Meghna Estuary, Bangladesh

Large changes in the avifauna in an extant hotspot of farmland biodiversity in the Alps

Visible marking of wader nests to avoid damage by farmers does not increase nest predation

Habitat requirements and population estimate of the endangered Ecuadorian Tapaculo Scytalopus robbinsi

Avian population trends in Scalesia forest on Floreana Island (2004-2013): Acoustical surveys cannot detect hybrids of Darwin’s tree finches Camarhynchus spp


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