Posted on: 02 Mar 2017
A ground-breaking study has revealed that habitat loss could lead to the extinction of some of the world's curlew and godwit species.
Godwits and curlews – which make up the subfamily Numeniini of the sandpiper family Scolopacidae – occur on all continents except Antarctica, but breed only in the Northern Hemisphere. Over half are of global conservation concern, with two of these – Eskimo Curlew and Slender-billed Curlew – currently treated as Critically Endangered though both are likely to be extinct.
Far Eastern Curlew, a charismatic species of the East Asian Flyway, is considered Endangered, while Bristle-thighed Curlew, breeding in Alaska and wintering on tropical Pacific islands, is listed as Vulnerable. Three further species – Eurasian Curlew and Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits, all of which occur in the UK – are globally Near Threatened.
The just-published study canvassed the views of over 100 experts and reviewed the scientific literature to help highlight the many threats they face, and top of the list is the loss of non-breeding habitat.
Most species rely on coastal estuaries and wetlands outside of the breeding season, many of which face increasing development and disturbance. This pressure is greatest in the Yellow Sea of China and Korea, perhaps the most important staging area in the world for migratory birds in terms of numbers, diversity and proportion of threatened species. Part of the East Asian Australasian Flyway, the Yellow Sea provides a vital rung in the migratory ladder between northern breeding areas in Asia and Alaska and southern non-breeding areas as far south as New Zealand and as far west as India.
A quarter of the Yellow Sea's mudflat feeding areas have been lost since the 1980s and much of the remainder is heavily degraded, causing declines in many wader species that depend on it. Increasing pressure for coastal development elsewhere in Asia and across the Americas may similarly affect other species.