Migratory Species Vulnerable to Five Key Threats

Ahead of the International Day for Biological Diversity on May 22, focused this year on water resources, experts are calling for greater international cooperation to find sustainable and cost-effective solutions to the problem of species loss and environmental degradation according to the report Natural Solutions for Water Security, published by the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Via InterPress Service:

According to Francisco Rilla, information and capacity building officer at the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), an intergovernmental treaty signed in 1979 in Bonn, Germany, “The ‘Big Five’ primary causes of biodiversity loss … are habitat destruction, overharvesting and poaching, pollution, climate change and introduction of invasive species.”

Migratory species are especially vulnerable “as they depend entirely on a network of well-functioning ecosystems to refuel, reproduce and survive in every ‘station’ they visit and upon unrestricted travel,” Rilla told IPS.

The U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) notes that many migrating birds, such as cranes, storks, shorebirds and eagles, travel thousands of kilometres across flyways that span countries, continents and even the entire globe.

However, “half of the world’s wetlands – natural water storage systems – have been lost over the past century,” Nick Nuttall, UNEP spokesperson, told IPS.

Because of the degradation of their habitats, some migratory bird species could lose up to nine percent of their populations, while others, like the spoon-billed sandpiper, could become extinct within a decade, leading to further ecosystem changes and ultimately impacting on human development.These birds use wetlands to rest, feed and breed along their migration routes.

This response is interesting.

In March 2007, at the request of the Group of Eight largest economies along with several developing countries, UNEP started an initiative called ‘The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity’ (TEEB), aiming at studying the economic benefits of biodiversity and incorporating them into policy-making.

How does economics evaluate an extinction, or an ecosystem collapse? As economics is currently structured, will such tragedies not be systematically undervalued?


  1. Not only does Watts confuse two incidents (the snail darter episode was in Tennessee) but they aren't even remotely relevant to this allegation he us pulling out of his, um, hat. He seems to be blaming windmills not for whooping crane mortality but for whooping crane population uncertainty, and letting unnuendo carry the day beyond that.

    If there were a single documented incident of a whooping crane being a windmill victim he might deserve a tiny bit of attention for this screed. As it stands it is unsubstantiated troublemaking. Not unusual in those quarters, but not especially helpful.

    It would be nice if people who think of themselves as "skeptics" would do a better job of doubting things.

  2. Dr. Tobis--do me a favor. I cannot do it from Shanghai. Go to Bart Verheggen's site. Find the discussion and long thread on biodiversity.

    In comments, I asserted much as above. I was roundly criticized by the usual gang of idiots. But someone there found a paper that basically indicated that I was correct--(when actually I was being metaphorical--that observed climate change actually did account for 1% as opposed to the Four Horsemen.

    I would greatly appreciate it if you went to that discussion in any event, so it doesn't need to be recapitulated 3 years later. And if you see the comment that actually percentized the threat, drag it over here as a favor.

    Many thanks

  3. The whole valuation-of-ecosystem-services thing is too complicated for me so can I just offer a quick nitpick: the seemingly irrelevant and mystifyingly precise 'up to nine percent of their populations' should be 'up to nine percent of some of their sub-populations *every year*', and even that correction wouldn't make a whole lot more sense because the spoon-billed sandpiper is losing three times that percentage *globally* every year, which makes the poor old knot's drastic but strictly regional 9% loss seem a bit trivial.

    The sentence looked pretty close to gibberish on first reading and, alas, it makes even less sense when you track it back to its source, which is here:


    (If you can find anything in there that justifies the 'ultimately impacting on human development', I'll send you a biscuit. Much as I'd hate the migratory waders to go kablooey, the measures necessary to halt their decline would surely have far more of an impact on human development - assuming that means human health and progress rather than something more spiritual - than any changes to mudflat ecosystems wrought by their absence. If you die off because an important staging post has been built on, that says nothing about the health of the ecosystems at the far ends of your journey. And losing one wetland species does not mean that all the ecosystem services provided by your erstwhile hangouts will be lost.)

  4. Vinny, thanks as usual for the intelligent and provocative response.

    I read it as saying that among the less affected species were showing 9% decline per year, which is entirely horrifying. But it does seem a bit selective in the way it is presented.

    As for "ultimately affecting human development", I find this argument to some extent beside the point - before we go there we need to make some sort of ethical judgment about how severely we can deplete the world's biological robustness regardless of economic impact. Even neglecting the possibility of ethical obligation to other species, how much should we allow ourselves to foreclose the viability of the planet inherited by future human generation.

    That all said, the argument fro ‘ultimately impacting on human development' is presumably that wetland systems "provide services" (table 1) and that migratory birds can be keystone species for wetland ecosystems, which under sufficient stress may cease to provide those services. The study you link provides no support for this claim. It may be journalistic sloppiness.

    Is the claim supportable?

    Perhaps it isn't. Rather we should look at it in the way the Endangered Species Act was intended in the US, back when there was actually an environmental protection movement here. The idea of protecting endangered species is to use them as a marker for protecting habitat. Once species begin to fail, the idea is that we are at risk of losing the biomes that support them. That the coastal areas which support the species in question have economic value is clearly supported by table 1.

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