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Long-Term Changes in the Abundance of Benthic Foraging Birds in a Restored Wetland

Mander, Lucas; Scapin, Luca; Thaxter, Chris B.; Forster, Rodney M.; Burton, Niall H.K.


Lucas Mander

Luca Scapin

Chris B. Thaxter

Niall H.K. Burton


Estuaries have historically been subject to considerable habitat loss, and continue to be subjected to such in areas where the natural landward migration of intertidal habitats is constrained by hard coastal defences. Thus, in estuaries where direct (e.g., port development) or indirect (e.g., sea level rise) processes are predicted to threaten intertidal habitats and associated waterbird species, there is a regulatory requirement to produce compensatory intertidal habitats. Managed realignment (MR) is a shoreline management practise that is undertaken to build sustainable coastal defences and create intertidal habitats in estuaries. This nature-based solution brings multiple benefits in the form of carbon storage, increased resilience to flooding, and, potentially, the formation of new habitats, which is the topic of this study. A 75-ha site at the Paull Holme Strays (Humber Estuary, United Kingdom) was monitored over a 10-year period following MR to examine the change in the abundance of waterbirds in the chosen site in response to the physical processes occurring there. Using digital terrain models (DTMs) collected via light detection and ranging (LiDAR), we examined how four compensatory target species responded to changes in elevation after the creation of the site. It was shown that the very rapid accretion of estuarine sediment occurred in the first decade of the new re-created intertidal, which, over time, led to changes in the numbers of benthic foraging birds supported. Furthermore, elevation change was also driven by this sediment accretion, the rate of which depended on the initial bed elevation of the sectors within the site. Ten years after the recreation of the habitat, the spatial heterogeneity in the bed elevation remained high; however, the sectors with the lowest elevations accreted the most over the 10-year period. The foraging number of the four waterbird species that colonised the MR site significantly declined above a certain elevation, with this effect being most pronounced for the Eurasian curlew (Numenius arquata). The number of common shelducks (Tadorna tadorna), dunlins (Calidris alpina), and common redshanks (Tringa totanus) declined significantly after initial peaks 5–7 years after the creation of the site, reflecting the ongoing elevation changes. Thus, this study highlighted the need for long-term studies to understand how species respond to large-scale habitat construction. It can also aid in predicting the suitability of an MR site for waterbirds in the medium and long term.


Mander, L., Scapin, L., Thaxter, C. B., Forster, R. M., & Burton, N. H. (2021). Long-Term Changes in the Abundance of Benthic Foraging Birds in a Restored Wetland. Frontiers in ecology and evolution, 9, Article 673148.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Aug 13, 2021
Online Publication Date Sep 10, 2021
Publication Date Sep 10, 2021
Deposit Date Dec 4, 2021
Publicly Available Date Dec 7, 2021
Journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution
Electronic ISSN 2296-701X
Publisher Frontiers Media
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 9
Article Number 673148
Keywords Waterbirds; Monitoring; Intertidal habitats; Ecological engineering; Managed realignment
Public URL


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Copyright Statement
Copyright © 2021 Mander, Scapin, Thaxter, Forster and Burton. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

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