The conservation of Afro-Palaearctic migrants: what we are learning and what we need to know
Author(s): Vickery, J.A., Mallord, J.W., Adams, W.M., Beresford, A.E., Both, C., Cresswell, W., Diop, N., Ewing, S.R., Gregory, R.D., Morrison, C.A., Sanderson, F.J., Thorup, C., Van Wijk, R.E. & Hewson, C.M
Published: February 2023
Digital Identifier No. (DOI): 10.1111/ibi.13171
Developing solutions to tackle a population decline usually requires an understanding of whether the decline is being driven by poor breeding success or poor survival. The work that has been done so far for declining migrant birds has tended to focus on single species or single sites. Very little of this work has looked at small migrant passerines, so there are plenty of gaps in our current understanding.
This review paper examines the most recent research from the Afro-Palaearctic flyway, linking European breeding grounds with their African wintering areas, and assesses whether we have filled enough of the knowledge gaps to be able to take action now.
The study highlights the significant advances in the use of tracking technologies; meaning we now know much more about where our summer visitors spend the winter, and the routes and sites they use during migration. These tracking studies indicate that many migrants are highly dispersed during the winter months, rather than concentrated on a small number of wintering sites. This suggests that site-level conservation – locating and protecting key sites – is likely to be of limited value.
Instead, we need conservation solutions that improve the value of wintering habitats more widely across Africa. It will, however, be difficult to assess whether this approach is effective, not least because such measures would affect only a small part of any one European country’s breeding population, making it difficult to detect any benefits in the monitoring data being collected on the breeding grounds.
The study also identifies that targeted action to boost the productivity of European breeding populations may help to halt the declines of some species. However, such action will not, on its own, be enough to help other species without efforts to address the issues they face at staging sites and on the wintering grounds.
The study concludes that, despite a growing wealth of knowledge, we remain largely unable to deliver the necessary conservation action because of the knowledge gaps that remain. While better coordination of research efforts – working across the full annual cycle – will help, the authors argue that we need to use the scientific knowledge that we already have, and start to act now. If we wait until we have a complete understanding, it is likely to be too late.
NotesWe dedicate this review to Japheth Roberts, a brilliant young biologist from Ghana whose life was tragically cut short by illness. He made a major contribution to RSPB and Ghana Wildlife Society work in Africa – an area of work we highlight as a key ongoing priority. The review drew on discussion and insights generated at a workshop in Cambridge in 2019 generously funded by the Cambridge Conservation Initiative collaborative fund CCC-05-18-003 and RSPB and co-organized by J.V. and Susana Requena. We are grateful to all attendees for their invaluable input: Guy Anderson, Phil Atkinson, Olivier Biber, Claire Bissel, Graeme Buchanan, Malcolm Burgess, Andrew Callendar, Carles Carboneras, Nonie Coulthard, Nicola Crockford, João L. Guilherme, Jenny Gill, Borja Heredia, Vicky Jones, Felix Leichti, Alex Ngari, Abdoulaye N'Diaye, Will Peach, Rob Robinson, Tilman Schneider, Fernando Spina, David Stroud, Simon Wotton. We also thank the Editor Richard Fuller and Associate Editor Inês Catry and two anonymous referees for comments that greatly improved this review.
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