A University of Queensland researcher whose research on migratory birds is helping to shape Australian and international environmental policy, has won the 2017 Australian Ecology Research Award.

The Ecological Society of Australia also recognised Associate Professor Richard Fuller’s contribution to Australian ecology through training graduate students, at the EcoTas 2017 joint conference of Australian and NZ ecological societies in NSW.

“Each year millions of migratory shorebirds from Arctic Russia and Alaska migrate south to avoid the harsh northern winter but are increasingly at risk due to habitat loss along the way,” said Dr Fuller, of UQ’s School of Biological Sciences. 

 Dr Fuller uses satellite data to investigate habitat changes along the birds’ migration path.

“Over the past 50 years, thousands of kilometres of coastal development has destroyed two-thirds of the bird’s habitat along the coast of China and Korea,” he said.

“This Yellow Sea region represents a ‘fast food’ restaurant for these migratory birds on their way to and from Australia.

“The development has cut off tidal mud flats from the sea, so there are far fewer places for the birds to find food. The birds are also threatened by disturbance and loss of habitat in Australia.”

Dr Fuller said Australia had bilateral agreements with China, Japan and South Korea, and all four countries were working to stop further habitat loss to protect the birds.

“China recently proposed some habitats as World Heritage Sites but many areas still need formal protection,” he said.

“We all have an obligation to protect migratory birds from habitat loss and disturbance, and locally, we are trying to safeguard bird habitats around Moreton Bay, Queensland, which is home to two million people.”

Australia recently added three migratory shorebird species to the critically endangered list: the sickle-billed Eastern curlew, and its smaller cousins, the curlew sandpiper and great knot. “Critically endangered” is the final conservation stage before extinction.

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