Wildlife Research Wildlife Research Society
Ecology, management and conservation in natural and modified habitats
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Monitoring waterbird populations with aerial surveys – what have we learnt?

R. T. Kingsford A B and J. L. Porter A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, NSW 2052, Australia.

B Corresponding author. Email: richard.kingsford@unsw.edu.au

Wildlife Research 36(1) 29-40 https://doi.org/10.1071/WR08034
Submitted: 29 February 2008  Accepted: 1 July 2008   Published: 21 January 2009

Abstract

We can use aerial surveys of waterbirds to identify high-conservation-value wetlands, estimate species’ abundance and track changes in wetland condition. Two major approaches prevail. Transects to estimate a few species (1–20, often ducks) are predominantly used in North America and counts of entire waterbird assemblages on discrete wetlands are favoured in Australia. Such differences reflect wetland type, discrete (whole count) and continuous (transect) sampling, different objectives and history. There are few continuous large-scale aerial surveys of waterbirds, despite cost efficiencies and effectiveness. We review the eastern Australian waterbird survey that samples about one-third of the continent (2.697 million km2). Each October, during 1983–2007, all waterbirds were estimated on an average of 811 wetlands, within ten 30-km-wide survey bands, separately extending across latitudes from the east coast to central Australia. The survey has demonstrated the importance of arid wetlands for waterbirds and provided management data on distribution, abundance and breeding of waterbirds. Most significantly, long-term temporal data for individual wetlands provided strong evidence for the impacts of water resource development (dam building, diversion of water). These data have influenced wildlife management, river rehabilitation and restoration policies at a national scale.


Acknowledgements

We thank Jim Hone for his encouragement and the University of New South Wales for providing support. Eastern Australian Aerial Surveys were supported by the Department of Sustainability and Environment in Victoria, the Environment Protection Agency in Queensland, the Department of Environment and Climate Change (DECC) in New South Wales, and the Department of Environment and Heritage in South Australia. The aerial survey work was approved by the DECC Animal Ethics Committee (AEC Research Authority 011220/01). The aircraft and pilot were authorised and endorsed to conduct low-level survey operations.


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