Waterbird movements and habitat use in dynamic landscapes
Symposium convenors: Inka Veltheim and Bob Green.
Many waterbirds undertake extensive movements across the landscape in search of resources. Changes in wetland conditions can affect the suitability of feeding and breeding habitats. The loss of wetlands across the landscape can, therefore, impact on waterbird populations and communities. Technological advances, such as wildlife tracking technology, provide an opportunity to study large- and fine-scale movements of waterbirds offering greater insights into spatial habitat use, critical habitats, and behaviour. Such information is essential in understanding how waterbirds are affected by climate and landscape changes and will enable better management of wetlands and waterbird habitats during critical stages of their lifecycle.
This symposium will present studies that are shaping our understanding of waterbird movements in relation to their wetland habitats, and across the dynamic landscapes, they inhabit. Recent research, using tracking technology in Australia and New Zealand, has identified important habitats and characterised movement patterns of a number of waterbird species. These studies are critical for identifying important habitats (such as breeding and drought refugia habitat), home range requirements, and behavioural responses to changing landscape conditions. The results of these studies provide information that can be implemented by land managers and decision makers on the ground and at a policy level.
Evolution of Australasian birds: recent and current research
Symposium convenor: Leo Joseph
The tools of genomics continue to revolutionize our understanding of the evolution of birds. They provide new frameworks for interpreting traditional data sets used in avian systematics such as palaeontology, osteology, anatomy, plumage and morphometrics. They are also increasingly bringing new and exciting dimensions to the study of adaptation and work on birds is no exception. This continues a trend started several decades ago with the advent of molecular data and updates and progress reports are always timely. Against this background, the symposium’s broad aim is to present an integrated picture of how the study of the evolution of Australasian birds is progressing. It will draw on molecular and traditional systematics, studies of adaptation and selection, phylogeography, biogeography and finer scale population and landscape genetics. All speakers will be invited to pitch their contribution to ornithologists who don’t work with molecular data or in the general themes just listed but who are often curious as to what all the fuss is about, especially with molecular research.
From the tropics to the sub-Antarctic; seabird conservation in Australasia.
Symposium convenors: Kerry-Jayne Wilson and Rowan Mott
Host: Australasian Seabird Group
By habitat, seabirds are arguably the most threatened group of birds. Subject to threats both ashore and at sea, and with climate change, seawater warming, fisheries interactions, prey depletion and the insidious growing presence of plastics in the marine environment, the threats will intensify over coming decades. The Australasian Region has one of the most diverse seabird faunas anywhere in the world. Over a third of the world’s seabird species breed in or annually migrate to the Australasian Region; about 10% of all seabirds breed only in New Zealand, and Australia too has its own endemic species.
Seabirds of the Australasian Region breed from the tropics of northern Australia, south to the Australian and New Zealand sub-Antarctic Islands. Some species remain close to their breeding sites year-round, whereas others undertake migrations crossing entire ocean basins. Likewise, other seabirds breed elsewhere and visit Australasian seas between breeding seasons. Many migratory species that are protected while in Australia and New Zealand lack legal protection in international waters or during sojourns in certain foreign EEZs. These divergent movement strategies pose challenges for seabird conservation.
Australasian seabird scientists are at the forefront of research to tackle these diverse threats. In this symposium, we will present new information on the threats to and management of seabirds in the Australasian Region, with presentations about tropical seabirds taking precedence. We will explore the challenges seabird specialists face in addressing the threats and managing this hugely diverse seabird fauna.
The past, present and future of bird banding in Australasia
Symposium convenor: Catherine Young
Host: The Australian Bird Study Association, in collaboration with Australian Bird and Bat Banding Scheme, New Zealand Banding Scheme
Bird banding, or ringing, has been used as a method for studying birds since the 1800’s and is still an essential research tool for ornithologists, providing valuable data for scientific, management, and educational purposes. Bird banding projects provide a unique and invaluable source of detailed and reliable data to help us understand the way our birds are responding to the many challenges they are now facing. For example, banding is central to studies on population demographics, mating systems, life history, and migration. Currently, a number of long-term banding projects across the region provide an important opportunity for the banding community to work cooperatively toward some big scientific objectives in conservation and population monitoring. They also provide a great vehicle for educating the public and providing training for the next generation of banders and scientists.
It’s well-known that many of our birds are under increasing pressure from a range of challenges but perhaps it’s less well-known that bird-banding and banders are also under pressure to evolve and keep up with new techniques and technologies. As banding groups in both Australia and New Zealand strive to maximise the value of banding data, conversations between groups, individuals and regulators are increasingly important.
This symposium will provide updates on key activities of the Australian and the New Zealand banding schemes. Talks will highlight how ‘traditional’ banding still plays a vital role in modern research, providing examples of the integration of new techniques the potential for collaborations. Further talks will also review long-term banding projects to demonstrate the insights we’ve obtained from them. A forum discussion will provide an opportunity to identify how we can build on these foundations, and make sure that as a banding community we continue to deliver high-value and long-lasting banding studies.
Woodland birds, including tropical savanna and stone country
Symposium convenor: Alex Kutt
Woodland dependent birds are a significant ecological community, distributed across vast areas of temperate, sub-tropical and tropical regions of Australasia. The fate of woodland birds is of great concern today due to the decline and disappearance of species from many woodland areas in recent decades. In many instances, the primary causes are habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation, and/or inappropriate fire regimes, predation by exotic species, and the pervasive effects of ‘problem’ native species such as the noisy miner and yellow-throated miner. While the reduction in geographic distribution and loss of species is moderately easy to measure, it is more challenging to assess rates of decline, extinction probability, and how species loss effects community functionality and integrity.
This symposium invites speakers to present on the state and fate of woodland birds, but we are particularly interested in hearing about progress on: conceptual models of how woodland ecosystems function; gauging which woodlands are the highest priority for management and restoration; which management of restoration actions are most effective at restoring woodland bird diversity; setting tangible goals for woodland restoration and revegetation efforts; changes in the way remaining areas of woodland are managed; predictions of the direct or indirect effects of climatic changes on woodland birds; and, benefits or impacts of carbon farming and offsetting programs on woodland birds.
Beyond bird surveys: new ways to collect and analyse bird data
Symposium convenor: David Watson
Occurrence data—including species richness and abundance estimates—are fundamental to ornithology, and are increasingly being used for environmental reporting. Species distributional modelling, trend assessments, migratory dynamics and phenological responses to climate disruptions all depend on reliable records of which species occur where and when. Although most information on species and assemblages have traditionally been collected using on-ground bird surveys, advances during the last decade are revolutionizing how we collect and consider occurrence data. Technological innovations (e.g., drones, acoustic sensors, camera traps) are enabling data to be collected in new ways, but there have also been significant advances in survey design and analytical approaches to better discriminate patterns and infer underlying process.
In this symposium, we will provide a range of examples of how the application of quantitative approaches can improve the design, collection, and interpretation of bird data. The importance of well-designed and well-implemented monitoring will be highlighted, especially when attempting to detect species trends with acceptable power, by showcasing the use of results-based stopping rules and spatially explicit power analysis. By conducting parallel analyses on data collected using both variable completeness fixed effort and fixed completeness variable effort, the influence of sampling effort on ecological inference will be demonstrated. In another example, the confounding effects of variation in detectability between observers, survey methods, season, and other environmental factors will be highlighted by presenting new ways to collect and analyse detectability data to improve occupancy and abundance estimates. New statistical approaches that explicitly account for uncertainty and integrate sampling effort are breathing new life into historic data-sets, enabling comparisons at unprecedented scales.
Advances in ornithology through new technologies and citizen science
Symposium convenors: Allan Burbidge, Richard Hill and Daniella Teixeira
Opportunities to improve threatened species conservation are increasingly aided by advances in technology and an increase in the kinds of resources available to implement on-ground activities. Recent relevant technological innovations include new approaches to monitoring individuals and populations using bioacoustic sound recorders, camera traps, unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), high-resolution cameras, radars, biologging, and satellite-derived products. Over the last decade, there has also been clear growth in the popularity of citizen science programs, wherein a group of non-expert volunteers collect and/or process data. These advances have significantly increased our ability to collect data over large spatial and temporal scales, greatly increasing the data available to conservation decision-makers. However, significant challenges remain, including dealing with very large datasets, data extraction from sound and image files, and ensuring the robustness of citizen-collected data.
In this symposium, we will explore how advances in data collection and processing through technology and citizen science can improve understanding of threatening processes, patterns of occurrence across the landscape, trends in population size, and avian responses to management and conservation efforts. Furthermore, we will explore the varied benefits of citizen science, such as its cost-effectiveness, improved transparency, and potential to deliver nature-based solutions, while also highlighting some common pit-falls. In the application of these new approaches it is imperative to stay abreast of similar work around the country and further afield to heed the lessons learned, and similarly share successes and failures with the broader ornithological community in return.
Australasian raptor research
Symposium convenor: William Riddell
The recent case of senseless Wedge-tailed Eagle poisoning in Victoria has showcased the lack of understanding of raptor ecology in sections of the community and the need for greater awareness and appreciation for these magnificent predators and the role they play in our ecosystems. Current research on Australasian raptors covers a diverse array of topics, including movement and dispersion patterns, secondary rodenticide poisoning and the impact of diseases to competitor carnivore species on raptor populations.
As the apex predators of the avian world birds of prey are important indicators of the relative health of our ecosystems. Raptors are good gauges of habitat quality due to their sensitivity to human disturbance and environmental contamination. Declines in raptor populations can be a preliminary sign of a dysfunctional ecosystem. The more we know about raptor ecology and populations, the more we know about the nature of the ecosystems they inhabit.
This symposium aims to exhibit some of the latest raptor research being undertaken in Australasian. From Red Goshawks in the Cape York, to Wedge-tailed Eagles in Western Australia and Tasmania, Peregrine Falcons in Victoria, coastal raptors of Queensland and Southern Boobook Owls in Western Australia, the latest research is revealing new insights into the ecology of raptors and the relative health of the ecosystems they occupy.
Conservation success among Australia’s threatened birds
Symposium convenor: Stephen Garnett
Stories of success in bird conservation are essential if the public is to continue their support. The public and governments need to know that funds they commit to retaining our biological inheritance bring about tangible benefits - so many sad stories are reported in the press that the public becomes fatigued with the perpetual pessimism of conservationists. The good thing is that there are many excellent stories from this region – in fact, New Zealand has downlisted more species under the IUCN Red List criteria than any other country in the world, with Australia not far behind. This symposium will tell some of those stories and how it has been achieved.
Key themes to be discussed will be what it was about the birds concerned that made recovery possible, how important research has been in every case to the recovery process and the people behind the recovery actions - because conservation is nothing without people – people have caused the problems but dedicated and inspiriting people are also always behind the long road to recovery. The presentations will also talk about the organisation needed to bring about recovery and the time taken to effect change – rarely can trends be turned around quickly, a message that needs to be conveyed to policymakers who often want something fixed within a single electoral cycle. The symposium will also contain an overview paper that describes progress with threatened Australian birds over the last 30 years since BirdLife Australia first took an interest in conserving all Australia’s threatened birds.
Disease in birds
Symposium convenors: Marcel Klaassen and Michelle Wille
There are a number of good reasons to have a focus (and a symposium!) on disease in birds. Parasites, including disease-causing microorganisms, are an integral part of life and often also associated with the end of an individual’s lifetime. Also in birds, parasites greatly affect individuals’ fitness and populations’ health. Stress factors, such as disturbance, pollution, and habitat destruction generally result in increased susceptibility to parasites. Therefore, with only intensifying Global Change, the proneness to parasite infections is likely to become of increasing importance in determining bird’s lives and population dynamics.
A global change process little considered is the increase in animal production. Over the last decade, global chicken production has increased by as much as 70%. Given the high densities in which livestock are typically kept, the animal production sector is particularly susceptible to disease, which is often being introduced through wildlife (i.e. zoonoses). At the same time, the industry is also a hotspot for the development of novel, highly-pathogenic strains. With a global increase in animal production, the rapid movement of humans and animals, and the encroachment of humans and their livestock into wildlife habitats, opportunities for so-called reverse zoonoses are on the rise, and impacts on wild birds are also increasingly being noticed.
Another justification for a focus on parasites during this conference comes from most birds having great powers of flight. Birds thus also have an extraordinary ability to spread parasites over great distances in relatively short periods of time. There are currently about 50 microbial pathogens of homeothermic vertebrates associated with migratory birds. Migratory birds are therefore also thought to be responsible for spreading wave after wave of high-pathogenic avian influenza (originating from poultry) across the face of the globe, for example. This does not only cost the global poultry industry billions of dollars annually, but it also keeps human-health workers on their toes, since human strains causing influenza pandemics often include avian influenza genes.