Declining waterbird populations


This week’s featured research article has just published in Global Change Biology and compares the long-term responses of waterbird communities in the Murray Darling Basin and the Lake Eyre Basin at river basin, catchment and major wetland scales. The researchers found that waterbird abundances were strongly related to river flows and rainfall. For the developed Murray–Darling Basin, they identified significant long-term declines in total abundances, functional response groups (e.g., piscivores) and individual species of waterbird (n = 50), associated with reductions in cumulative annual flow. These trends indicated ecosystem level changes. Contrastingly, the researchers found no evidence of waterbird declines in the undeveloped Lake Eyre Basin. They also modelled the effects of the Australian Government buying up water rights and returning these to the riverine environment, which were projected to partly (18% improvement) restore waterbird abundances, but projected climate change effects could reduce these benefits considerably to only a 1% or 4% improvement, with respective annual recovery of environmental flows of 2,800 GL or 3,200 GL. The researchers conclude that this unique large temporal and spatial scale analysis demonstrates severe long-term ecological impact of water resource development on prominent freshwater animals, with implications for global management of water resources. The article can be downloaded here.