Messengers of a changing world

The migration ecology of Asian land birds
  • Schematic representation of the East Asian Flyway. Red dots mark our main fieldwork bases (Tyumen, Western Siberia (1) and Amur, Far East Russia (2)). Important collaborating stations are marked with blue dots. [Click to enlarge]
    Schematic representation of the East Asian Flyway. Red dots mark our main fieldwork bases (Tyumen, Western Siberia (1) and Amur, Far East Russia (2)). Important collaborating stations are marked with blue dots. [Click to enlarge]
    © ESRI, J. Kamp

    Background

    Birds, especially migratory species, are excellent indicators of the state of our planet, as they are mobile and susceptible to change. The Asian migration system supports the greatest diversity and abundance of migratory birds, and hosts the largest number of globally threatened species. Compared to the European and American flyways, little is known about population trends, migration routes, migratory connectivity and threats. This is unfortunate as the systems experiences the strongest human pressure of any global flyway, as Yong et al. (2015) suggest. On the breeding grounds in Siberia, the collapse of the Soviet state farming systems in 1991 led to major land-use changes. Across China, habitat at stopover sites is lost due to urban sprawl and agricultural expansion and intensification. The wintering grounds of many species, situated in Southeast Asia, have seen highest deforestation rate of any major tropical region. Human population growth is faster in Asia than on all other continents. Concerns have been raised that massive illegal songbird persecution in East Asia has reached levels that are unsustainable and resulted in population declines.

    In collaboration with partners in Russia and China, we aim to contribute to a better understanding of land bird migration ecology in Asia, in order to inform future conservation strategies.

    The objectives of the research are

    • To explore so far untapped data resources such as monitoring data from Russian nature reserves and ringing data from across the flyway to estimate long-term population trends, thereby identifying declining species that might then be prioritized for conservation action.
    • To identify the migration routes of key species and thereby contribute basic knowledge on their year-round distribution, using satellite tracking, geolocators and stable isotopes
    • To establish the scale of persecution (illegal hunting) for key species and areas.
    • To quantify land cover and land-use change using remote sensing.
    • Based on the results, to identify major threats to migratory birds, and to suggest strategies to extend and improve the current protected area system in Asia to preserve the diversity of migratory birds.
  • Approaches

    We are currently collating and analyzing existing material on population sizes and habitat preferences and population trends of migratory land birds from the breeding grounds (mainly Russia). We exploit existing databases, e.g. from the SASCHA project in Western Siberia, but also seek new collaborations with ornithologists.

    Population densities of Yellow Wagtail in different habitats in Western Siberia. Soviet crop fields and hay meadows, now abandoned and overgrown with dense vegetation (categories ABA and ABO), host the highest densities – a species clearly profiting from land-use change on the breeding grounds.
    Population densities of Yellow Wagtail in different habitats in Western Siberia. Soviet crop fields and hay meadows, now abandoned and overgrown with dense vegetation (categories ABA and ABO), host the highest densities – a species clearly profiting from land-use change on the breeding grounds.
    © NN, Immo Kämpf
    A first analysis of ringing data from the Amur region in Far East Russia suggest recent declines in a number of Emberiza bunting species.
    A first analysis of ringing data from the Amur region in Far East Russia suggest recent declines in a number of Emberiza bunting species.
    © Wieland Heim

    Furthermore, we are compiling data on population trends from so far unexploited data sources, such as monitoring data from nature reserves on the breeding grounds, data from stopover sites (e.g. ringing/banding datasets), and citizen science data collected on the wintering grounds.

    Wieland Heim has started to colour-ring a number of migrants. In 2016, he has also attached light-level geolocators (tracking devices) to the following species at his study site in Far East Russia in cooperation with our collaborators from Copenhagen University: Brown Shrike (Lanius cristatus), Siberian Rubythroat (Luscinia calliope), Yellow-breasted Bunting (Emberiza aureola) and Chestnut-eared Bunting (Emberiza fucata). We hope to retrieve the data from these loggers in summer 2017 to plot routes for these species for the first time.

    The migration routes of Yellow-breasted Bunting, Rubythroat and Brown Shrike are studied using geolocators (attached to the backs of the birds).
    The migration routes of Yellow-breasted Bunting, Rubythroat and Brown Shrike are studied using geolocators (attached to the backs of the birds).
    © Amur Bird Project

    In summer 2017, we will put another focus on the impact of changing wildfire patterns on biodiversity. We hypothesize that land abandonment in Russia has led to biomass accumulation on former hay meadows and pastures, while dam constructions have dried out the floodplains, and that this has triggered more frequent, larger and hotter wildfires. Three MSc students from the universities of Münster and Leipzig will study the link between fire frequency, habitat quality and bird abundance and breeding success in the Russian Far East.

    Fire influences ecosystem properties over large areas in Russia.
    Fire influences ecosystem properties over large areas in Russia.
    © Amur Bird Project
  • © ABP / UoT

    Partners

    Coordination

    Collaborators

    Funding

    © BOU
    • Amur Bird Project (since 2013): NABU Regionalverband Erzgebirge, Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, Deutsche Ornithologen-Gesellschaft, British Ornithologists' Union, Ornithologischer Verein zu Leipzig, Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, The Sound Approach, FAN-B, Rotary Club Potsdam, Oriental Bird Club, International Crane Foundation, ProRing, Muraviovka Park
    • Surveys in Tyumen: Scholarship of the President of the Russian Federation to Stepan Boldyrev.
    • Wieland Heim is partly funded by a career development bursary of the British Ornithologists' Union (BOU).
  • Info

    Selected publications

    • Edenius L, Choi CY, Heim W, Jaakkonen T, de Jong Adriaan, Ozaki, Kiyoaki, Roberge, JM (2017, in press) The next common and widespread bunting to go? Global population decline in the Rustic Bunting Emberiza rustica. Bird Conservation International 27 [doi:10.1017/S0959270916000046]
    • Bozó L, Heim W (2016) Sex-specific migration of Phylloscopus warblers at a stopover site in Far Eastern Russia. Ringing & Migration 31: 41-46 [doi:10.1080/03078698.2016.1195213]
    • Kamp J, Oppel S, Ananin AA, Durnev YuA, Gashev SN, Hölzel N, Mishchenko AL, Pessa J, Smirenski SM, Strelnikov EG, Timonen S, Wolanska K, Chan S (2015) Global population collapse in a superabundant migratory bird and illegal trapping in China. Conservation Biology 29: 1684–1694  [doi:10.1111/cobi.12537]

    Media coverage

    Features on our paper about the drastic decline of the Yellow-breasted Bunting and illegal hunting in China:

    Media coverage: