, Volume 12, Issue 6, pp 1157-1173

Assessing alternative anthropogenic habitats for conserving waterbirds: salinas as buffer areas against the impact of natural habitat loss for shorebirds

Abstract

Because many natural waterbird habitats are threatened by human disturbance and sea level rise, it is vitally important to identify alternative wetlands that may supplement declining natural habitats. Coastal salinas are anthropogenic habitats used for obtaining salt by evaporation of sea water. These habitats support important numbers of waterbirds around the world, but their importance as feeding habitats is poorly understood. I evaluated salinas as feeding habitats relative to natural intertidal habitats by comparing time spent foraging, prey-size selection, and net energy intake rate of four overwintering small-sized shorebird species on intertidal mudflats and on adjacent salinas. In winter, Dunlin Calidris alpina, Curlew Sandpiper C. ferruginea and Sanderling C. alba predominantly used the mudflats, whereas Little Stint C. minuta fed mainly on the salina. In the pre-migration fattening period, all species preferred to feed on the salina, significantly increasing the time they spent feeding in the supratidal pans. Net energy intake rates (kJ min−1) were significantly higher on the salina than on the intertidal mudflats in 60% of all comparisons. On average, salina contributed 25.2 ± 24.2% (range: 4–54%) of the daily consumption in winter and 78.7 ± 16.4% (range: 63–100%) of the daily consumption in the pre-migration period. I recommend that modern active salinas maintain flooding conditions in the evaporation pans throughout winter, thus increasing the available surface for foraging waterbirds. I conclude that the conservation of salinas at coastal wetlands is a viable approach for shorebird conservation.