Consequences of habitat loss and change to populations of wintering migratory birds: predicting the local and global effects from studies of individuals



Population models show that the response of migratory bird populations to a reduction in the area, or change in the quality, of their winter feeding areas depends critically on the shape (linear or non-linear) and strength (slope) of the relationship describing how the proportion dying from starvation changes with population density. Yet the parameters that define such density-dependent functions are extremely difficult to estimate from direct measurements of mortality at different population sizes. Even if they could be estimated, there would be uncertainty as to whether or not the relationship would remain the same, and thus provide reliable predictions, in the new circumstances for which forecasts are required. This paper summarizes studies of the Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus which aim to derive the shape and strength of the winter density-dependent mortality and emigration function for one estuary, under existing and new circumstances, from the responses of individual birds to each other and to their spatially and seasonally varying food supply. Based on these studies, an individuals-based, physiologically structured game theoretic distribution model has been built which predicts the carrying capacity and numbers of birds dying at different population sizes. The model also can be applied to Oyster-catchers occupying several estuaries distributed throughout their wintering range and can thus be extended to the entire biogeographical or global population. In addition, it can be used to identify some easily measured behavioural and ecological parameters that identify those species, from a wide range of taxa, that are most likely to be affected by habitat loss and change.