• Criteria;
  • international importance;
  • Ramsar listing;
  • shorebirds;
  • thresholds;
  • wetlands


Aim  Conservation managers designate significant areas for shorebirds based on imperfect data. Significant wetlands for migratory shorebirds have usually been identified on the basis of whether they exceed certain thresholds, defined either by total abundance (usually 20,000 waterbirds) or percentage of a population (usually 1.0%). We evaluate the performance of existing criteria and determine if lowering thresholds would improve shorebird conservation without adding unreasonable numbers of significant sites.

Location  Australia.

Methods  We evaluated the best available data, which is used by managers to designate significant areas, to describe the effect of lowering thresholds on the number of significant sites identified and the number of shorebirds these sites support using a range of thresholds in existing criteria. We also investigated factors which may explain interspecific differences evident when lowering thresholds.

Results  When the threshold for total abundance was lowered from 20,000 to 2000 shorebirds, an additional 45 shorebird areas, holding 65% more shorebirds, were identified. When thresholds for the percentage of a population criterion were lowered from 1.0 to 0.1%, an additional 86 shorebird areas were identified which held 29% more shorebirds. The proportion of a species population counted within wetlands identified as significant by the application of criteria varied widely between species. The percentage of population criterion always identified a network of areas that included more individuals of each species than the total abundance criterion at all threshold levels tested. The percentage of species populations found in networks of significant areas showed greater increase as thresholds were lowered for species that were abundant, widespread and well represented at existing thresholds.

Main conclusions  Our results suggest lowering thresholds will substantially increase the number of shorebirds in identified significant areas. However, some species will remain under-represented, partly because of interspecific differences in distribution and inadequate sampling of some shorebird habitats.