Shorebirds in the New York Times

This week an important article on migratory shorebirds that features some of my research was published in the New York Times. The authors, John Fitzpatrick and Nathan Senner, have developed a striking interactive feature that describes the incredible migrations of shorebirds world wide. By featuring the incredible long-distance migration of the bar-tailed godwit, the article cleverly introduces the diversity of threatening processes across its hemisphere-wide migratory flyway that are driving shorebirds towards extinction.

The article features some amazing graphics, including visualisations of data that I produced while remote sensing the distribution and change of shorebird habitat in Asia and Australia (see the original paper in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment here). The new figures of spatial data developed by the New York Times follow the amazing visualisations produced by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology a few years ago.

More than anything the article highlights the incredible conservation work that must be done (and is being done!) for shorebirds around the world. Much of my time over the last decade has been spent on studying the population dynamics of shorebirds in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, and it is amazing to see how far we have come. Our studies of shorebird population dynamics, led by Professor Richard Fuller, have been published in a series of papers in Ecography, Emu and Nature Communications, which ultimately contributed to new threatened species listings here in Australia.

Similarly, my work developing the satellite remote sensing methods needed to quantify the loss of shorebird habitat has helped identify areas most in need of protection (see some articles in Remote Sensing, Journal of Ornithology , Austral Ecology and FREE). This work led us to developing the first global high-resolution map of intertidal flats, mapped at 30-m resolution in a collaboration with the Google Earth Engine team, which will become available late this year.

Although a distressing story of decline towards extinction emerges from almost all of this research, new conservation measures and a better understanding of the factors that influence shorebird populations will hopefully contribute to slowing their decline in the future. In the meantime, an enormous group of active researchers and conservationists are doing an incredible job to solve the puzzle of shorebird declines around the world.