Sandpiper Behavioural and Population Biology

I am fostering research on the population ecology of west coast migrant shorebirds, within the framework of the Wildlife Ecology Research Group at Simon Fraser. One goal of this program is to develop and test alternative methods of obtaining demographic parameters on a migratory bird that might be used to model population dynamics. Major components of the work are: 1) research on overwintering Dunlin, in suburban Vancouver and (2) research on western sandpiper throughout their annual cycle.

Categorized List of Shorebird Publications by CWE Researchers

Overwintering Dunlin

We have studied overwintering Dunlin in the Fraser River Delta in suburban Vancouver. The delta supports the most northerly large overwintering population of Pacific Dunlin. Work on this population by graduated Ph.D. students Pippa Shepherd, and Lesley J. Evans Ogden, and by postdoctoral research associate Yuri Zharikov has quantified the relative usage of agricultural and mudflat habitat by this species, and the relative contribution to their overwinter diets. The work has direct applications to conservation and local land use issues, particularly with respect to maintainging open-soil agricultural land in suburban Vancouver and to expansion of the Port of Vancouver. We are currently collaborating with the Ecosystems Institute on a parallel study of dunlin usage of the Skagit River estruary in Washington State.

Western Sandpiper Research Network

Since 1993, the Wildlife Ecology Chair at Simon Fraser University has fostered a research network to examine the year-round activites of highly migratory shorebirds,emphasizing the Western Sandpiper, Calidris mauri, under the umbrella of the Western Sandpiper Research Network.

Working with local cooperators in the US, Mexico, Panama and Ecuador, we have examined diverse aspects of the species, from its diet to its demography.

Major aspects of work, and participants, include:

breeding biology in Alaska (graduated PhD students Brett Sandercock and Doug Schamel; MSc student Amanda Neihaus currently: Sarah Jameison, focusing on dunlin)

field studies of overwintering birds at a northerly site (Dunlin: graduated Ph.D. students Pippa Shepherd and Lesely Evans Ogden, postdoctoral fellow Yuri Zharikov)

field studies on the wintering grounds in NW Mexico (graduated PhD student Guillermo Fernandez,in collaboration with Horacio del la Cueva, from CICESE near Ensenada, Baha California);

field studies on the wintering grounds in Panama (graduated PhD student Patrick O'Hara,in collaboration with F. Delgado, Univ. de Panama)

feeding-predation danger tradeoffs, particularly at migratory stopover sites (Ron Ydenberg and David Lank at SFU, Rob Butler (Canadian Wildlife Service), plus graduated PhD student Andrea Pomeroy, and MSc students Nick Wolfe and James Burns; currently: MSc student David Hope)

diet, particularly adaptations to feeding on biofilm (Bob Elner, CWS, and collaborator Tomahiro Kuwae)

physiological studies of relative organ size, fat levels, and protien utilization throughout the annual cycle by Tony Williams (SFU) and his graduated students Chris Guglielmo, Oliver Egler, Will Stein, and Dana Seaman;

radiotracking individuals during spring migration (Nils Warnock and Mary-Anne Bishop, and Pat Baird)

modeling migration strategies (Colin Clark, UBC, currently postdoctoral fellow Caz Taylor)

documenting and explaining differential migration distribution of age and sex classes during the non-breeding season (Ron Ydenberg, David Lank; graduated PhD students Silke Nebel and Patrick O'Hara, and MSc student Kim Mathot; Bob Elner at CWS)

migratory connectivity using stable isotopes, trace elements, and genetics and morphology (David Lank, D Ryan Norris, Kurt Kyser (Queen's Univ), MSc student Samantha Franks)

life history and demographic modeling of sandpiper populations (Brett Sandercock, Caz Taylor and David Lank)

conservation biology (graduated PhD student Guillermo Fernandez, David Lank, Rob Butler (CWS), others)

We have additional contacts and relationships with shorebird students in Ecuador, Columbia, Mexico, California, Oregon, Washington, and elsewhere.

One emerging general theme in this research is how birds balance the tradeoff between foraging effort and the risk of predation, particularly by migratory falcons. The return of falcons to the landscapes of both the Americas and Europe over the past 20 years have substantial implications for their prey. We have evidence of changes in habitat utilization during migration, with decreased usage of riskier stopover sites in favor of larger more open sites, despite apparently poorer feeding at the larger sites. Such habitat shifts, if general have substantial implications for the shorebird population monitoring schemes and the detection of long-term population trends.