Local and global influences on population declines of coastal waders: Purple Sandpiper Calidris maritima numbers in the Moray Firth, Scotland

TitleLocal and global influences on population declines of coastal waders: Purple Sandpiper Calidris maritima numbers in the Moray Firth, Scotland
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsSummers, RW, Foster, S, Swann, B, Etheridge, B
Pagination126 - 132
Date Published05/2012
ISBN Number0272-7714
Keywordsrecruitment, survival, waders

Declines in numbers by several wader species in Britain have been linked to climate change, but the mechanism for the declines has rarely been explored. Britain lies at the northern end of the East Atlantic Flyway, and supports 1.3 million out of the Flyway's 8.5 million coastal waders (Charadrii) in winter and the Purple Sandpiper is one of the species whose numbers have declined. Here, we examine the dynamics of the decline as observed in the Moray Firth, northeast Scotland, investigating whether the decline was due to poorer apparent survival (return rate) or poorer recruitment of young birds. The maximum number in the Moray Firth declined from 860 in 1987/88 to 236 in 2006/07, with some increase during winters 2007/08 and 2008/09. At the three main high-tide roosts (Balintore, Lossiemouth and Buckie) the maximum combined number declined from 574 to 90. Changes in survival and recruitment (percentage of first-year birds) were examined at these roosts from captured samples, which were ringed and recaptured. There were no significant changes between winters in survival rates, nor were there differences between the survival rates of age groups (first-year and adult) or bill size groups, which represented birds of different sex and breeding origin. Annual survival estimates for the three roosts ranged from 72 to 77%. The percentage of first-year birds varied among roosts and years; the lowest values were during the late 1980s/early 1990s and early 2000s. A free-running population model incorporating varying percentages of first-year birds and constant mortality for each roost provided a plausible explanation for the decline. Although modelled numbers followed the observed pattern, a discrepancy in one year was carried forward in subsequent years, so that the fit with the observed numbers was parallel rather than similar. However, it seems that the decline in numbers was largely due to poorer recruitment. We discuss whether breeding success had declined, whether the population had responded to changes in the local sewage treatment systems, which could affect invertebrate food for Purple Sandpipers, or whether fewer birds chose to winter in Scotland. The Moray Firth population is derived from Norway and possibly Canada, and there is evidence that the Norwegian population was disproportionately affected. The reason for poor recruitment requires further study, and other wader species require examination to test if poor recruitment is a common feature of decline in numbers.

Short TitleEstuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science