Population trends, threats, and conservation recommendations for waterbirds in China

(Xiaodan Wang, Fenliang Kuang, Kun Tan and Zhijun M 28 April 2018)


China is one of the countries with abundant waterbird diversity. Over the past decades, China’s waterbirds have suffered increasing threats from direct and indirect human activities. It is important to clarify the population trends of and threats to waterbirds as well as to put forward conservation recommendations.


We collected data of population trends of a total of 260 waterbird species in China from Wetlands International database. We calculated the number of species with increasing, declining, stable, and unknown trends. We collected threatened levels of waterbirds from the Red List of China’s Vertebrates (2016), which was compiled according to the IUCN criteria of threatened species. Based on literature review, we refined the major threats to the threatened waterbird species in China.


Of the total 260 waterbird species in China, 84 species (32.3%) exhibited declining, 35 species (13.5%) kept stable, and 16 species (6.2%) showed increasing trends. Population trends were unknown for 125 species (48.1%). There was no significant difference in population trends between the migratory (32.4% decline) and resident (31.8% decline) species or among waterbirds distributed exclusively along coasts (28.6% decline), inland (36.6% decline), and both coasts and inland (32.5% decline). A total of 38 species (15.1% of the total) were listed as threatened species and 27 species (10.8% of the total) Near Threatened species. Habitat loss was the major threat to waterbirds, with 32 of the total 38 (84.2%) threatened species being affected. In addition, 73.7% (28 species), 71.1% (27 species), and 57.9% (22 species) of the threatened species were affected by human disturbance, environmental pollution, and illegal hunting, respectively.


We propose recommendations for waterbird conservation, including (1) strengthening conservation of nature wetlands and restoration of degraded wetlands, (2) enhancing public awareness on waterbird conservation, (3) improving the enforcement of Wildlife Protection Law and cracking down on illegal hunting, (4) carrying out long-term waterbird surveys to clarify population dynamics, (5) restoring populations of highly-threatened species through artificial intervention, and (6) promoting international and regional exchanges and cooperation to share information in waterbirds and their conservation.



A total of 38 species (14.6% of the total) have been listed as threatened species, including 6 species (2.4%) being listed as Critically Endangered, 16 species (6.4%) Endangered, and 16 species Vulnerable (6.4%). Another 27 species (10.8%) were listed as Near Threatened (Table 2). In addition, 54 species (21.5%) were not assessed due to data deficiency or their marginal distribution in China. The threatened species were mainly in the Orders of Gruiformes (10 species), Charadriiformes (10 species), Anseriformes (8 species), and Pelecaniformes (8 species). The highest proportion of threatened species was in the Order of Ciconiiformes (40.0%) (Table 3). Although the percentage of threatened waterbird species in China (15.1% of the total) was slightly lower than that the global level (18.8%) (Wetland International 2012), the percentage of non-assessed species in China (21.5%) was much higher than that globally (0.4%).TABELL.PNG

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