|Avian Demography Unit
Department of Statistical Sciences
University of Cape Town
African Waterbird Ringing Coordinator
Waterbirds are probably the most conspicuous animals at wetlands and, by definition, depend on water or waterlogged areas for their survival, using these areas to feed, breed and/or roost in. Some, however, are able to adapt to non-aquatic habitats (e.g. Egyptian Goose feeding in agricultural lands) while others are totally dependent on wetlands (e.g. ducks, crakes, rails, snipes and terns).
In South Africa, numerous wetlands support large numbers of waterbirds, many providing ideal non-breeding grounds for migratory Palearctic waders, while others provide breeding opportunities for many resident species. Designation of 15 of the 16 Ramsar sites, or wetlands of international importance, have been based on, inter alia, the abundance and conservation status of waterbirds occurring at the sites. But how exactly do waterbirds use wetlands in South Africa, and how well are our wetlands – especially the Ramsar sites – conserving the 130 species that inhabit them? These two questions form the basic framework for my PhD.
In order to provide answers to these questions I will be using data gathered from three ADU datasets: CWAC (Coordinated Waterbird Counts), SABAP (Southern African Bird Atlas Project) and SAFRING (SA Bird Ringing Unit). Most of the quantitative infor-mation will be drawn from CWAC, the other two projects providing supplementary infor-mation. The primary aims of my study are:
Key subsidiary questions and objectives are:
Based on the information obtained from these analyses, I will then focus on formulating an Integrated Population Monitoring (IPM) programme for waterbirds in South Africa, with special emphasis on ducks and geese (Anatidae). This will entail defining a strategy to maintain and expand waterbird research in South Africa to ensure that populations are effectively conserved and managed. Such a strategy would involve related disciplines (e.g. ringing, hunting and wetland research), and would focus on the need to look at processes that affect changes in populations and distributions (e.g. productivity, mortality, immigration and emigration). Only through long-term monitoring of these processes will it be possible to identify the factors responsible for population changes, and to predict the effects of other factors (e.g. climate change, habitat loss, etc.) on populations.
A national waterbird IPM programme would make a valuable contribution to South Africa fulfilling its obligations to international conventions such as The Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar Convention) and the Convention for the Conservation of Migratory Species (Bonn Convention), the latter including the African–Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA).
I hope that, through my research, awareness of the importance and significance of waterbirds and wetlands will be raised, and that it will contribute significantly to national and international waterbird programmes.
From Bird Numbers 10 (2) December 2001:33