Changes in surface water drive the movements of Shoebills

Marta Acácio, Ralf H. E. Mullers, Aldina Franco, Frank J. Willems, Arjun Amar

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Abstract

Animal movement is mainly determined by spatial and temporal changes in resource availability. For wetland specialists, the seasonal availability of surface water may be a major determinant of their movement patterns. This study is the first to examine the movements of Shoebills (Balaeniceps rex), an iconic and vulnerable bird species. Using GPS transmitters deployed on six immature and one adult Shoebills over a 5-year period, during which four immatures matured into adults, we analyse their home ranges and distances moved in the Bangweulu Wetlands, Zambia. We relate their movements at the start of the rainy season (October to December) to changes in Normalized Difference Water Index (NDWI), a proxy for surface water. We show that Shoebills stay in the Bangweulu Wetlands all year round, moving less than 3 km per day on 81% of days. However, average annual home ranges were large, with high individual variability, but were similar between age classes. Immature and adult Shoebills responded differently to changes in surface water; sites that adults abandoned became drier, while sites abandoned by immatures became wetter. However, there were no differences in NDWI of areas used by Shoebills before abandonment and newly selected sites, suggesting that Shoebills select areas with similar surface water. We hypothesise that the different responses to changes in surface water by immature and adult Shoebills are related to age-specific optimal foraging conditions and fishing techniques. Our study highlights the need to understand the movements of Shoebills throughout their life cycle to design successful conservation actions for this emblematic, yet poorly known, species.
Original languageEnglish
Article number15796
JournalScientific Reports
Volume11
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 4 Aug 2021

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