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Migratory songbirds in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway: a review from a conservation perspective


The East Asian-Australasian Flyway supports the greatest diversity and populations of migratory birds globally, as well as the highest number of threatened migratory species of any flyway, including passerines (15 species). However it is also one of the most poorly understood migration systems, and little is known about the populations and ecology of the passerine migrants that breed, stop over and winter in the habitats along this flyway. We provide the first flyway-wide review of diversity, ecology, and conservation issues relating to 170 species of long-distance and over 80 short-distance migrants from 32 families. Recent studies of songbird migration movements and ecology is limited, and is skewed towards East Asia, particularly Mainland China, Taiwan, Russia, Japan and South Korea. Strong evidence of declines exists for some species, e.g. Yellow-breasted Bunting Emberiza aureola, but tends to be fragmentary, localised or anecdotal for many others. More species have small breeding ranges (< 250,000 km2) and/or are dependent on tropical forests as wintering habitat than those in any other Eurasian migratory system, and are thus more vulnerable to habitat loss and degradation throughout their ranges. Poorly regulated hunting for food and the pet trade, invasive species and collisions with man-made structures further threaten migratory songbirds at a number of stop-over or wintering sites, while climate change and habitat loss may be of increasing concern in the breeding ranges. A key conservation priority is to carry out intensive field surveys across the region while simultaneously tapping into citizen science datasets, to identify important stop-over and wintering sites, particularly for poorly-known or globally threatened species across South-East Asia and southern China for targeted conservation actions. Additionally, the advent of miniaturised tracking technology, molecular and isotopic techniques can provide novel insights into migration connectivity, paths and ecology for species in this migration system, complementing data from banding exercises and observation-based surveys, and could prove useful in informing conservation priorities. However, until most states along the East Asian-Australasian flyway ratify the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) and other cross-boundary treaties, the relative lack of cross-boundary cooperation, coordination and information sharing in the region will continue to present a stumbling block for effective conservation of migratory passerines.

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