New progress has been made in the protection and restoration of waterbird habitats in the wetland of Dongting Lake

Wetlands are important habitats for waterbirds, which are “indicators” of the health of wetland ecosystems. Dongting Lake is an important wintering ground in the East Asia-Australasia migratory bird migration route, but there is still a lack of research on the habitat distribution dynamics of waterbirds in the wetland of Dongting Lake under changing water conditions.

In order to explore the temporal and spatial dynamics of habitat under different hydrological conditions of Dongting Lake, and then put forward targeted habitat protection and restoration suggestions, Xie Yonghong, a researcher at the Institute of Subtropical Agroecology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, took wintering waterbirds in the wetland of Dongting Lake as the research object, combined with ground survey, remote sensing inversion, species distribution model simulation and other methods, based on three consecutive wintering environmental data and wintering waterbird distribution data with large differences in water conditions, and simulated the habitat suitability of three typical aquatic bird groups.

The findings were published June 27 in the Journal of Environmental Management.

The results showed that grassland area, water body area and distance from water source were the key environmental variables affecting the habitat suitability of wintering waterbirds. The spatial pattern of habitat suitability of waterbirds was significantly different between different hydrological situations and aquatic bird groups. Under normal receding, herbivorous waterbirds and invertebrate-eating waterbirds have the largest suitable habitat area, while the suitable habitat area is the smallest in the early receding situation. Fish-eating waterbirds have the largest suitable habitat area when water receding is delayed. Overall, the habitats of invertebrate-eating waterbirds are most affected by changes in water conditions.

Researcher Xie Yonghong team members carry out a survey of wintering waterbirds in Dongting Lake. Photo courtesy of Zhang Pingyang

Based on the spatial variation of suitable habitats under different water conditions, the study also identifies key conservation areas and potential restoration areas for the habitat of various groups of waterbirds. Among them, the critical conservation area of herbivorous-tuber waterbirds was the largest, and the potential repair area of invertebrate-eating insects was larger than the area of their key conservation area, indicating that this group of waterbirds was the most sensitive to environmental changes.

The results also show the effectiveness of three habitat restoration projects (Daxi Lake, T-and Steaming Bowl Lake) implemented in recent years in East Dongting Lake. Based on the habitat characteristics of key protected areas, this study proposed that the optimal flooding time (since September 1) for the protection of three aquatic bird groups was 52±7 days for herbivorous-tubers, 68±18 days for invertebrate-eating animals, and 132±22 days for fish-eating herbivores. Therefore, the gradual receding of Dongting Lake in mid-October will be most beneficial to the habitat of wintering waterbirds.

According to reports, this study can be used to guide the protection and restoration of waterbird habitats in Dongting Lake, and emphasizes that the spatiotemporal changes of habitats under different water conditions should be fully considered when carrying out management in highly dynamic wetlands.

The research was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China Regional Innovation and Development Joint Fund, the National Key Research and Development Program, and the Natural Science Foundation of Hunan Province. (Source: China Science News, Wang Haohao, Zhang Jiaoyang)

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