Cranes and Wetlands
Sarus Cranes, and a host of other wildlife species, in south Asia thrive in an unlikely landscape - the crowded and nearly-completely cultivated floodplains of north-central India, and southern Nepal. This collaborative programme of the International Crane Foundation and NCF is striving to uncover how this alliance of people and wildlife is possible, and how it can be strengthened. We will bring together diverse disciplines to ensure long-term persistence of this unique coexistence.
Waterbird Monitoring Over Time and Space
Cranes and many other waterbirds in south Asia are long-lived, have wide distribution ranges, and with the majority of their populations outside of protected wetland systems. Scientific information to understand their ecology and inform conservation interventions are largely missing. Our work strives to fill this lacuna by undertaking systematic, long-term monitoring of waterbird populations in diverse landscapes.
Exploring the SarusScape
Sarus Cranes inhabit landscapes with a multitude of cropping patterns, human habits, and a pleasantly high wild species diversity. As part of our work we explore patterns and processes driving habitat and biodiversity persistence, and the ecology of species and habitats, in these landscapes. We explore also impacts of past and current institutional frameworks that act on the Sarus, on the co-occurring species, the wetlands, and indeed the landscape to locate conditions that maximize coexistence.
The IUCN Stork, Ibis and Spoonbill Specialist Group (SIS-SG) is a global network of scientists, conservationists, governmental and non-governmental institutions, and people committed to the scientific understanding and conservation of SIS species and their habitats.
This volunteer network of 75 experts focuses on 60 SIS species worldwide.
The SG is located at, and affiliated to, the Nature Conservation Foundation, the International Crane Foundation, and the Complutense University of Madrid.
Farming for Cranes
Farmlands, we are discovering, are a habitat that cranes and other waterbirds use. As part of a new and novel long-term initiative, we will explore ways to experimentally improve these "habitats" to safeguard cranes. Farming without chemicals, using seeds that are traditional, networking with farmers whose lands are vital for waterbirds, and engaging with communities who collectively manage wetlands: these are just a few of the initiatives we are developing.
- Journal Article2019Sympatric cranes in northern Australia: abundance, breeding success, habitat preference and dietEmu - Austral Ornithology 119(1): 79-89. https://doi.org/10.1080/01584197.2018.1537673Download
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Sympatric breeding of Sarus Cranes (Antigone antigone) and Brolga (A. rubicunda) occurs only in northern Queensland, Australia but factors contributing to this unique sympatry are unknown. Large-scale developments currently planned in this region, with potentially major impacts on cranes, create an urgent need to understand the ecological requirements of each crane species. We carried out a multi-floodplain landscape-scale survey during April-May 2017 and derived metrics for several ecological aspects for the first time for both crane species. The abundance of the two species differed between the floodplains. Both crane species synchronised nest-initiation with rainfall (November to March). Breeding success was higher than past estimates anywhere, with 60% of Sarus Crane pairs and 50% of Brolga pairs fledging chicks. Sarus Cranes preferred four riverine Eucalyptus-dominated regional ecosystems, with 10% using open habitats. Brolgas preferred two non-wooded regional ecosystems, but 32% shared Eucalyptus-dominated regional ecosystems with Sarus Cranes. Stable isotope analyses revealed Sarus diet to be comprised of more diverse vegetation than Brolgas, while Brolgas fed across a wider range of trophic levels. The ecology of Gulf cranes closely matched habits of Sarus Cranes in south Asia, despite disparate conditions suggesting considerable species plasticity. The diverse habitats of the Gulf and varying diet appear to facilitate the cranes’ sympatry, and our study provides basic data for developing long-term conservation plans in the face of development activities.
- Journal Article2019Roosting ecology of Black-Headed Ibis (Threskiornis melanocephalus) in urban and rural areas of southern Rajasthan, IndiaWaterbirds 42(1): 51-60.
The roosting ecology of most waterbird species is poorly known and even less is known from southern Asia, where many species inhabit human-modified areas. Roosting ecology of the Black-headed Ibis (Threskiornis melanocephalus) was studied in urban and rural settings in southern Rajasthan, India. Analyses focused on assessing whether site characteristics varied between nest sites, urban and rural roost sites, and paired sites (i.e., a waterbird roost site near Black-headed Ibis roosts but without Black-headed Ibis). Additionally, the hypothesis that factors affecting Black-headed Ibis numbers at roosts would be similar at urban and rural sites was tested. Tree characteristics (canopy cover, girth at breast height) were different (P < 0.05) between nest and roost sites. Urban roost sites experienced 2.3 times greater disturbance than rural roost sites. Paired site characteristics were similar to urban roost sites (multi response permutation procedure, significance of δ = 0.3), but were dissimilar to rural roost sites. Co-occurring roosting bird assemblages were significantly different between roosts and paired sites (significance of δ < 0.01) in urban and rural settings. Black-headed Ibis numbers at urban roosts were influenced by multiple variables, but models showed considerable ambiguity at rural sites. Results strongly suggest that including roost sites in a species status assessment is important.
- Journal Article2019Breeding Ecology of the Painted Stork Mycteria leucocephala in a managed urban wetlandIndian Birds, Vol 15, No. 2Download
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Urbanisation is an important driver of global change. There is relatively little information on how urbanisation is impacting wetland birds in India. We studied the nesting of Painted Storks Mycteria leucocephala at Jakkur Lake in Bengaluru to document the seasonality and breeding success in an urban wetland in southern India. We recorded the total number of nests and chicks in the colony during the entire nesting season from January to May 2017. A total of 66 nests were recorded and they fledged a total of 137 chicks. Of 50 nests that were monitored closely, 10% were abandoned. The mean number of chick per nest was 2.36 (SD = 0.62) and ranged between two and four chicks per nest. We used abundance data from eBird and show that Painted Stork nesting at Jakkur Lake probably started as recently as 2017. We demonstrate that using a combination of primary observation and eBird data can provide valuable insights in to the nesting ecology of large waterbirds in urban areas.
- Journal Article2018The role of artificial habitats and rainfall patterns in the unseasonal nesting of Sarus Cranes (Antigone antigone) in south AsiaWaterbirds 41(1): 80-86.
Sarus Cranes (Antigone antigone) in south Asia breed during the rainy season (monsoon), with few nests initiated outside of the monsoon. Several hypothesis have been put forth to explain the unseasonal nesting outside the monsoon, but a careful evaluation of the hypotheses has been absent. Using a multi-year (2004-2017), multi-scale (four Indian states) data set, this study explored the factors potentially responsible for unseasonal nesting by Sarus Cranes. Nests outside the monsoon were very rare (0.3% of all nests) and were initiated when Sarus Crane pairs were in areas with artificial water sources (irrigation canals or reservoirs) or faced abnormal monsoonal conditions. Unseasonal nests were initiated only when breeding pairs had been unsuccessful in raising chicks in the previous primary nesting season. Altered cropping patterns associated with increased artificial irrigation and changing rainfall patterns appear responsible for unseasonal nesting in Sarus Cranes. Nesting of this species outside the monsoon may increase in response to the increasing changes in cropping patterns and changing rainfall conditions.
- Journal Article2018Temporal variations in patterns of Escherichia coli strain diversity and antimicrobial resistance in the migrant Egyptian VultureInfection Ecology and Epidemeology 8:1, 1450590.
Aims: Multiple antimicrobial resistance in Escherichia coli of wild vertebrates is a global concern with scarce assessments on the subject from developing countries that have high human-wild species interactions. We studied the ecology of E. coli in a wintering population of Egyptian Vultures in India to understand temporal changes in both E. coli strains and patterns of antimicrobial resistance.
Methods and Results: We ribotyped E. coli strains and assessed antimicrobial resistance from wintering vultures at a highly synanthropic carcass dump in north-west India. Both E. coli prevalence (90.32%) and resistance to multiple antimicrobials (71.43%) were very high. Clear temporal patterns were apparent. Diversity of strains changed and homogenized at the end of the Vultures’ wintering period, while the resistance pattern showed significantly difference inter-annually, as well as between arrival and departing individuals within a wintering cycle.
Significance of study: The carcass dump environment altered both E. coli strains and multiple antimicrobial resistance in migratory Egyptian Vultures within a season. Long-distance migratory species could therefore disseminate resistant E. coli strains across broad geographical scales rendering regional mitigation strategies to control multiple antimicrobial resistance in bacteria ineffective.
- Book Chapter2018Chapter 6. Methods to reduce conflicts between cranes and farmersEditors: Jane E Austin and Kerryn Morrisson; pp. 117-141. https://www.savingcranes.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/cranes_and_agriculture_web_2018.pdf; published by International Crane Foundation, Baraboo, Wisconsin, USADownload
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Alternative methods to reduce conflicts between cranes and farmers range from relatively simple, inexpensive disturbance methods to changes in land use at a landscape scale. Visual and acoustics disturbance methods can be useful for small fields or gardens but require frequent changes to prevent habituation by the cranes. Changes in farming practices can be implemented by individual farmers and matched to the local situation. By altering timing of seeding and harvest, harvest methods, and other management practices, farmers can minimize the vulnerability of the crop or its attractiveness to cranes. Crop damage can be reduced by strategically locating high-risk crops away from crane roosts or high-use areas. Diversionary fields, where cranes can forage on nutritious, preferred foods near their roost without disturbance, are one of the more effective methods to reduce crop damage. Artificial feeding may be appropriate as a temporary measure but its long-term use should only be a last option where no alternative wintering areas or food resources are available or restorable. Chemical treatment of seeds can deter cranes from taking newly sown seeds and seedlings. Conflicts with farmers can be mitigated by financial or other compensation, or through conservation approaches. Financial mechanisms should be used cautiously as they can dilute or corrupt local traditions of tolerance. An integrated approach, using several methods, is more likely to be effective in the long term. Farmers and communities are more likely to embrace alternative measures if they understand basic crane ecology and if the measures are clearly beneficial to the farmers. Developing a broader range of tools to better understand the conflict, to understand farmer perceptions of cranes, and to help implement strategies to improve positivist attitudes is necessary. Multi-disciplinary approaches that incorporate social, economic as well as ecological aspects of the issue are very rare, and much needed to develop workable solutions.
- Conference Proceedings2018IUCN-SSC Stork, Ibis and Spoonbill Specialist Group Special Publication 1. VII International Conference on Black Stork Ciconia nigra: programme and abstracts.Download
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This booklet includes the programme and all of the abstracts of accepted talks and presentations for the VII International Conference on Black Storks.
- Book Chapter2018Case study. Sarus Cranes and Indian farmers: an ancient coexistenceEditors: Jane E Austin and Kerryn Morrisson; pp. 206-210. https://www.savingcranes.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/cranes_and_agriculture_web_2018.pdf; published by International Crane Foundation, Baraboo, Wisconsin, USADownload
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Sarus Cranes (Grus antigone) in India have benefited from long-standing cultural and traditional values of farmers. Substantial breeding populations persist even on landscapes entirely converted to human-dominated croplands. Four distinct population-level behaviors are recognized. Prominent growing conservation challenges for Sarus Cranes are highlighted. These include localized threats like egg mortality and land use change, and broader threats like pesticide-related mortality, industrialization, land use change, and changing climate. Challenges to Sarus Crane conservation are enormous, but persisting traditional agriculture and positive farmer attitudes offer considerable advantages. Framing and developing initiatives around these advantages will be critical to executing efficient and long-term conservation interventions.
- Journal Article2017Hunting or habitat? Drivers of waterbird abundance and community structure in agricultural wetlands of southern IndiaAmbio, 46(5): 613-620. DOI: 10.1007/s13280-017-0907-9
The relative impacts of hunting and habitat on waterbird community were studied in agricultural wetlands of southern India. We surveyed wetlands to document waterbird community, and interviewed hunters to document hunting intensity, targeted species, and the motivations for hunting. Our results show that hunting leads to drastic declines in waterbird diversity and numbers, and skew the community towards smaller species. Hunting intensity, water spread, and vegetation cover were the three most important determinants of waterbird abundance and community structure. Species richness, density of piscivorous species, and medium-sized species (31–65 cm) were most affected by hunting. Out of 53 species recorded, 47 were hunted, with a preference for larger birds. Although illegal, hunting has increased in recent years and is driven by market demand. This challenges the widely held belief that waterbird hunting in India is a low intensity, subsistence activity, and undermines the importance of agricultural wetlands in waterbird conservation.
- Journal Article2016Factors affecting provisioning times of two stork species in lowland NepalWaterbirds, 39: 365-374. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1675/063.039.0406
The ecology of stork colonies in south Asia are very poorly understood. Factors affecting provisioning times by adults were evaluated at nests of two stork species, the Asian Openbill (Anastomus oscitans) and the Lesser Adjutant (Leptoptilos javanicus), in lowland Nepal where the landscape is dominated by multi-cropped agriculture fields. Analyses focused on understanding if provisioning times are influenced more due to colony-level variables, wetlands around colonies, or season. Using generalized additive mixed models and the information-theoretic approach, colony-level variables (brood size and chick age) showed non-trivial associations with provisioning times (substantially better than the null model). Univariate models with colony size and wetlands had poor support (worse than the null model). Season, which represented the changing cropping patterns, rainfall, and wetness on the landscape, was the most important variable for both species. The combination of season and wetlands was very important for provisioning Asian Openbills whose chicks fledged during the monsoon (July–October), but not for Lesser Adjutants whose chicks fledged in the drier winter months (November–February). Results strongly suggest that changing cropping patterns to a drier monsoonal crop, or reductions in wetland extents, will be detrimental to storks in Nepal.