Graduate Research School Available Projects The impact of sea level rise on shorebirds – a global analysis

The impact of sea level rise on shorebirds – a global analysis

Title of Project

The impact of sea level rise on shorebirds – a global analysis


Dr Martijn van de Pol

College or Research Centre

College of Science & Engineering

Summary of Project

Sea level rise is already affecting shorebirds across the globe. Their breeding grounds are becoming more and more susceptible to flooding, causing more frequent nest loss and drowning of chicks. Furthermore, shorebirds feed on intertidal areas that will be exposed from the sea during low tide for less time if these areas cannot compensate enough in sediment growth for the accelerating sea level rise. Determining the impact of sea level rise on shorebirds is challenging, as much uncertainty exists to what extent saltmarshes, beaches and intertidal estuaries can keep up with climate change. Furthermore, shorebirds are among the most threatened group of bird species, but it is very challenging to attribute their strong declines to sea level rise, as many other threats have also become more prominent in recent decades (notably coastal habitat loss due to human activities).  Fortunately, sea levels also vary strongly from year to year, while most other environmental threats do not. Sea levels fluctuate due to variation in the weather and various short and longer-term lunar cycles. In fact, the sea level in two subsequent years can often vary as much as sea level rise is predicted to increase over three decades. Furthermore, globally rates of sea level rise vary considerably, for example in Australia’s Gulf of Carpentaria, rates of sea level rise have been three times the global average over the past decades. This project aims to utilize historical interannual variability from many places across the globe and relate it to changes in shorebird numbers and their body mass. This way we can determine the impact of fluctuations in historical sea levels as a model for any future impact of sea level rise on shorebird numbers. By taking a global perspective and utilizing large dataset from around the world we can generalize these results, and determine how they vary among shorebirds species. This can lead to important new recommendations on conservation prioritization of shorebirds.

Key Words

climate change; conservation; biodiversity; sea level rise; birds; data science

Would suit an applicant who

has an interest in ecology, climate change, and analysing large datasets

Updated: 22 Jun 2022