Importance of habitat heterogeneity in tidal flats to the conservation of migratory shorebirds

Shangxiao Cai, Tong Mu, He Bo Peng, Zhijun Ma, David S. Wilcove

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Understanding species distribution patterns and what determines them is critical for effective conservation planning and management. In the case of shorebirds migrating along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (EAAF), the loss of stopover habitat in the Yellow Sea region is thought to be the primary reason for the precipitous population declines. However, the rates of decline vary considerably among species, and it remains unclear how such differences could arise within a group of closely related species using apparently similar habitats at the same locales. We mapped the spatial distributions of foraging shorebirds, as well as biotic (benthic invertebrates consumed by migrating shorebirds) and abiotic (sediment characteristics) environmental factors, at a key stopover site in eastern China. Five of the six sediment characteristics showed significant spatial variation with respect to distance along the shoreline or distance from the seawall in the same tidal flat. The biomasses of four of the six most abundant benthic invertebrates were concentrated in the upper or middle zones of the tidal flat. The distribution patterns of all three focal shorebird species on the tidal flat were best explained jointly by this heterogeneity of sediment characteristics and invertebrate prey. These results suggest that the loss of tidal flats along the Yellow Sea, which is typically concentrated at the upper and middle zones, may not only reduce the overall amount of staging habitat, but also disproportionately affect the most resource-rich portions for the birds. Effective conservation of shorebird staging areas along the EAAF and likely elsewhere must consider the subtle habitat heterogeneity that characterizes these tidal flats, prioritizing the protection of those portions richest in food resources, most frequently used by focal bird species, and most vulnerable to anthropogenic threats. Article impact statement: Heterogeneity of tidal flats with respect to biotic and abiotic factors must be considered in shorebird conservation planning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere14153
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Ecology


  • East Asian-Australasian Flyway
  • ave playera migratoria
  • benthic invertebrate
  • distribución de recursos
  • habitat heterogeneity
  • heterogeneidad de hábitat
  • invertebrado bentónico
  • migratory shorebird
  • punto de parada
  • resource distribution
  • ruta migratoria Asia Oriental-Australasia
  • sediment
  • sedimento
  • staging site
  • 东亚-澳大利西亚迁飞区
  • 底栖无脊椎动物
  • 栖息地异质性
  • 沉积物
  • 资源分布
  • 迁徙停歇地
  • 迁徙鸻鹬类


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