Messengers of a changing world

The migration ecology of Asian land birds
  • A schematic representation of the East Asian Flyway, and the fieldwork sites of the year 2018: 1) Vychegda river, Komi; 2) Mt. Kvarkush, Ural; 3) Mirnoe, Enisey; 4) Selenga-Delta, Lake Baikal; 5) Amur floodplain; 6) Khingansky nature reserve
    A schematic representation of the East Asian Flyway, and the fieldwork sites of the year 2018: 1) Vychegda river, Komi; 2) Mt. Kvarkush, Ural; 3) Mirnoe, Enisey; 4) Selenga-Delta, Lake Baikal; 5) Amur floodplain; 6) Khingansky nature reserve
    © Johannes Kamp, google earth

    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  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 the 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 project are

    • To explore so far untapped data resources such as monitoring data from Russian nature reserves 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 collate and analyze existing material on population sizes and habitat preferences 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. We focus on direct land-use change effects (e.g., cropland abandonment,  Kamp et al. 2018) and indirect impacts on birds (e.g., increasing wildfire frequency due to biomass accumulation after abandonment).

    We have started to compile data on population trends from so far unexploited data sources, such as monitoring data from nature reserves on the breeding grounds and ringing datasets from stopovers sites.

    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.
    © Johannes Kamp, Immo Kämpf

    We use colour-ringing and light-level geolocators to track the migration routes and identify key stopover and wintering sites of a number of species (in collaboration with Copenhagen University). We focus on the globally threatened Yellow-breasted Bunting (Emberiza aureola) and Siberian Rubythroat (Calliope calliope, Heim et al. 2018). We have successfully retrieved tracks from geolocators mounted on further species, such as Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler (Locustella certhiola) and and Red-rumped Swallow (Cecropis daurica). By tracking different populations of the same species from across the range, we hope to find out more about migratory connectivity, and how that affects the resilience of species to various threats.

    First results on the migration routes of Yellow-breasted Bunting (right) and Siberian Rubythroats from geolocator tracking.
    First results on the migration routes of Yellow-breasted Bunting (right) and Siberian Rubythroats from geolocator tracking.
    © Wieland Heim

    Future work will include the use of citizen science data to identify historic and current key stopover and wintering sites of declining species along the flyways. We will then identify changes (such as conversion of natural habitat and urban sprawl) that might have affected size and quality of these sites via remote sensing methods.

  • Partners

    Coordination

    Johannes Kamp and Wieland Heim

    Collaborators

    Funding

    © ABP, BOU, DO-G, MBZSCF, DAAD

    Parts of our work are funded by the BOU, DO-G and  MBZSF. A number of undergraduates and MSc students have received PROMOS travel grants from the German Academic Exchange Service.

  • Info

    Update on the 2018 fieldwork all across Russia

     Fieldwork in the Selenga river delta, June 2018
    Fieldwork in the Selenga river delta, June 2018
    © Ilka Beermann

    Selected publications

    • Heim W, Pedersen L, Heim RJ, Kamp J, Smirenski SM, Thomas A, Tottrup A, Thorup K (2018) Full annual cycle tracking of a small songbird, the Siberian Rubythroat Calliope calliope, along the East Asian flyway. Journal of Ornithology 159: 893–899 [doi:10.1007/s10336-018-1562-z]
    • Heim W, Eccard JA, Bairlein F (2018) Migration phenology determines niche use of East Asian buntings (Emberizidae) during stopover. Current Zoology 64(6): 681-692 [doi: 10.1093/cz/zoy016]

    • Kamp J, Reinhard A, Frenzel M, Kämpfer S, Trappe J, Hölzel N (2018) Farmland bird responses to land abandonment in Western Siberia. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 268: 61–69 [doi: 10.1016/j.agee.2018.09.009]

    • Sander MM, Eccard JA, Heim W (2017) Flight range estimation of migrant Yellow-browed Warblers Phylloscopus inornatus on the East Asian Flyway. Bird Study 64 (4): 569–572 [doi:10.1080/00063657.2017.1409696]

    • Edenius L, Choi CY, Heim W, Jaakkonen T, de Jong A, Ozaki K, Roberge JM (2017) The next common and widespread bunting to go? Global population decline in the Rustic Bunting Emberiza rustica. Bird Conservation International 27(1): 35-44 [doi:10.1017/S0959270916000046]
    • 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 the landbird tracking project:

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

  • © Lukas Fuhse

    Available student projects

    We are looking for a motivated candidate with experience in remote sensing for a Master thesis project on land-use change in East Asia.