PhD Confirmation of Candidature - Constraints on population size of migratory shorebirds in Darwin Harbour, Northern Territory

PhD Confirmation of Candidature - Constraints on population size of migratory shorebirds in Darwin Harbour, Northern Territory

Thu, 13/02/2014 - 12:00

About the Presenter

I’ve spent the last few years researching migratory shorebirds and it has taken me to some exciting places. I did a Bachelor of Science at the University of Newcastle in NSW, where my interest in shorebirds began as I volunteered on monthly shorebird surveys in the Hunter Estuary. In 2011 I moved to Darwin to do my honours on behavioural responses of migratory shorebirds to anthropogenic and natural disturbances and the energetic consequences to the shorebirds. I’ve recently been involved with the Australasian Wader Studies Group with shorebird surveys in Broome. Currently, I am on the organising committee for the Australasian Shorebird Conference, which will be held here in Darwin this September. As well as this PhD, I co-ordinate shorebird surveys at East Arm Wharf for Darwin Port Corporation. I think it’s fair to say that my life is dominated by shorebirds, and that is (k)not a problem!


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In Australia there are over 800 species of birds and of those, shorebirds make up about 10%, which makes them the biggest single group of birds in this country. The Darwin Harbour region regularly supports up to 24 species of migratory shorebird, and during the austral summer some sites can host thousands of birds. These birds occur in Australia for the non-breeding season and arrive after having flown thousands of kilometres from the Arctic. 
Whether or not shorebirds consciously make decisions about their daily activities or their long-haul migration, they must balance the costs and benefits of their activities. On non-breeding grounds shorebirds must optimise their time and energy when moving between roosting and feeding sites to maximise their average energy intake, at minimal cost to body condition. How migratory shorebirds use the environment is determined by the decisions that individual birds make to maximise their fitness. 

In Darwin Harbour, it is likely that shorebirds use a network of sites, however it is not known if particular species are faithful to sites, or how far shorebirds travel in search of food-rich patches and how much space is needed for foraging and roosting birds. The region is rapidly developing and all coastal development applications must consider shorebirds under environmental legislation. Currently, we do not know how shorebirds will respond to further habitat loss in Darwin Harbour, and more importantly we lack any predictive framework for shorebird responses to habitat loss in the harbour.  

Understanding how and why shorebirds use mudflats and beaches will assist planners to mitigate potential impacts to species from development and expansion of industry along coastlines. The aim of this PhD is to investigate the factors that limit the population size of migratory shorebirds in Darwin Harbour. In this study I will apply foraging, movement and assemblage theories to understand the behaviour of shorebirds and how habitat is used, to predict how shorebirds will respond to the loss of either feeding or roosting habitat in Darwin Harbour.

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