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Conserving unprotected important coastal habitats in the Yellow Sea: shorebird occurrence, distribution and food resources at Lianyungang

By Ying-Chi Chan, He-Bo Peng, Yong-Xiang Han, Sheena Suet-Wah Chung, Jing Li, Lin Zhang, Theunis Piersma

Posted 09 Mar 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/570556 (published DOI: 10.1016/j.gecco.2019.e00724)

Coastal wetlands around the world are being destroyed and degraded rapidly. In most developing and recently developed countries, the ecological data required for wetland conservation are scarce, and expertise to collect them are less-established. One of the most rapidly deteriorating coastal regions is the Yellow Sea in East Asia, an important staging area for migratory shorebirds. Conserving the declining shorebird populations that rely on the Yellow Sea requires habitat protection and management based on sound ecological knowledge, especially on the seasonal occurrence of shorebirds, their daily movements and their food resources. Here we gather and assimilate such information for the coastal wetlands at Lianyungang on the Chinese Yellow Sea coast, an understudied and unprotected area where we found 27% of intertidal soft sediment habitats have been destroyed in 2003-2018. In 2008-2018, 43 shorebird species were recorded along this coastline, including 11 globally threatened or 'Near Threatened' species. We recorded 18 shorebird species of numbers exceeded 1% of the Flyway populations, which is the second-highest among the >300 shorebird sites in East Asia. Shorebirds stopping there during migration are probably attracted by the highly-abundant small soft-shelled bivalve species (including 9399 individuals/m2 of Potamocorbula laevis) that dominate the benthic mollusc community of the intertidal flats. Satellite tracked bar-tailed godwits (Limosa lapponica) and great knots (Calidris tenuirostris) stopped at Lianyungang for 5-28 days during northward and southward migration. The tidal movements of satellite-tagged birds indicated high tide roosts which are inaccessible on-ground. These movements can also be used to evaluate whether high-tide roosts and low-tide foraging areas are close enough to each other, and direct where to create new roost sites. Potential measures to increase the capacity of Lianyungang to support shorebirds include reducing human disturbances, creating roosts at undeveloped parts of the reclaimed land, and the removal of recently-built sea dikes to restore intertidal flats.

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