Migrant Landbird Study Group

Promoting collaborative research for migratory landbirds across flyways

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Over 90 people attended the MLSG satellite symposium on the day before the start of the full EOU conference. The meeting started with Danae Sheehan, the Chair of the MLSG welcoming everyone and outlining the rationale behind the meeting and the MLSG. As it says on the strap-line: the meeting was to connect research and conservation workers across the flyway.

We then had three sessions of short (speed) talks (see below for summary of all speed talks) introduced by a relatively longer talk to give an overview. We started with Anders Tottrup introducing the Ecology session and the key issue of fundamental lack of knowledge in many areas, with a particular emphasis on the migration and wintering period in Africa. Although the number of studies is going up, the relative number and their balance across the flyway has a long way to go before we can formulate real conservation plans.

After a coffee break where we enjoyed the unseasonably cool Extremadura weather – only 25 degrees – we resumed with the Conservation session. Juliet Vickery gave the overview, outlining the temporal and spatial scale of migratory declines and the real lack of any progress in country based-action to halt or even slow down migrant declines. This was followed again by 11 speed talks.

After a break for lunch we returned for the Methods session. Mikkel Willemoes outlined the major methods of study from tagging to radar to orientation cages to stable isotopes: how the when, where and what that allows us to understand ecology and so conservation is changing very fast at the moment. Again another round of 10 speed talks followed.

Summary of speed talks [pdf, 73kb]

We then established four break out groups over coffee, with the task of establishing priorities for research and conservation; each group was led by the 3 session chair-people and one more by Tony Morris specifically to focus on turtle doves. The discussions were to identify knowledge gaps, barriers and areas for possible future collaborations across the flyways. The turtle dove discussion group also covered the breadth of topics discussed in the three sessions, but focused on this single species and so provided a good highlight of which issues might be species specific.

We reconvened for a final hour with each session chair summing up the discussion.

Mikkel Willemoes as chair of the Methods group reported the following points:

  1. There is so much variation in tag design that it is very difficult to measure tag effects repeatably
  2. Training schemes for tagging are needed (perhaps as part of national ringing schemes)
  3. All details of tagging methods and tag effects need to be reported (this was then further discussed as a possible function of the MLSG newsletter)
  4. The need for a data depository for methods information

Anders Tottrup, as chair of the Ecology group reported the following points:

  1. We are missing so much basic natural history knowledge from the wintering grounds
  2. The coverage is very much biased towards the Western flyway
  3. Adaptation to climate and habitat change needs to be considered more fully
  4. We have many descriptive studies – we need more hypothesis led studies to test processes that can then feed into management recommendations
  5. Common sampling methods need to be adopted across flyways
  6. There is a need for mentoring and capacity building for ecologists in Africa (this was then further discussed as an action point for the MLSG to become involved in training workshops at the PAOC (Pan-African Ornithological Conference) in 2016).

Juliet Vickery, as chair of the Conservation group reported the following points:

  1. We are only at the stage that we can act on the breeding grounds
  2. Hunting is an important issue for some species
  3. We need to identify migratory bottlenecks (sites and species affected)
  4. Focus on the wintering ground
  5. Collaboration is important for all workers and whether seed money to promote collaborations could be found
  6. Data pooling along the model of the BirdLife Seabird database is needed
  7. Capacity building is needed
  8. There are a lot of social science data and interdisciplinary avenues that can be explored to really end up with solutions that can be enacted on a sufficiently large enough scale

Tony Morris as chair of the Turtle Dove group reported the following points:

  1. The main problem is habitat change but many other factors may be contributing
  2. Turtle doves are a classic chain-link migrant where a failure in any link in the annual life cycle will reduce survival
  3. Gaps and innovations needed:
    1. Wintering grounds and connectivity
    2. The Eastern flyway
    3. Possible effects of competition
    4. Diet analysis
    5. Data sharing across the flyway

Will Cresswell, as part of the executive committee of the MLSG, then made a few points to highlight the similarities and differences in the main issues identified by the groups above and the value of the discussions. Relatively novel issues identified were the need to understand adaptation to climate and anthropogenic change; the need to conserve over large spatial scales with land sharing (sustainable) solutions rather than site-based approaches; how methods of data collection and sharing, and collaborations established with respect to other declining taxa and by social scientists in Africa need to be used by migrant landbird workers; the urgent need for capacity building in Africa; and how long time series of data, and over the whole flyway are really needed to understand what we can do about long term declines – and although this necessary time and space is running out, this should just spur us on rather than depress us.

The meeting was closed by Danae Sheehan with a brief discussion about plans for the future for the MLSG with particular reference to input to the website and future activities. The symposium was closed with general agreement that it had been a useful exercise and something that the MLSG could repeat and build on in the future.

Our next symposium is likely to be at the PAOC in Senegal in the autumn of 2016. See you there!