Bio-energetic data show weak spatial but strong seasonal differences in wetland quality for waders in a Mediterranean migration bottleneck

Evelien Deboelpaep, Tina Coenegracht, Lore De Wolf, Alexandre Libert, Bram Vanschoenwinkel, Nico Koedam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Assessing the quality of wetlands as refuelling areas for migrating waterbirds based on resource distribution patterns is challenging. Resources in wetlands can vary both horizontally and vertically and may be differentially available to different bird species at different times of the year. Therefore, the extent to which wetland quality can be generalised across seasons and for a diversity of birds remains unresolved. Spatiotemporal variation in abundance and quality of macrobenthos as food for migrating waders was studied in a set of wetland areas near a Mediterranean migration bottleneck in the Balkan peninsula, during both spring and autumn migration. Samples were subdivided into different depth layers to differentiate between parts of the sediment that are accessible to different groups of wader species. To quantify food availability and the resulting refuelling capacity in different wetland habitat types, abundance, wet weight, and lipid and protein content of invertebrate taxa were determined for each sample. Invertebrate food availability and quality were markedly higher in spring than in autumn. Given the higher abundance and protein and lipid content of prey in spring, the total energy that could be harvested in spring (3.81 ± 0.79 kJ/m2) was about 7 times higher than in autumn (0.56 ± 0.12 kJ/m2). Most prey were found in the top layer of the sediment (0–22 mm depth), but about a third of the total energy was present in the deepest soil layer that only longer-billed species could reach (55–200 mm depth). Higher quality prey items such as larger-bodied and heavier polychaetes and bivalves were found in the deeper sediment layers. For other taxa, there was no evident vertical pattern of increasing individual body size. Prey abundance differed between certain habitat types but, overall, food availability could not be linked to distinct habitats. In spring, redox potential tended to be higher, while pH, vegetation cover, conductivity, and temperature were lower than in autumn. Different wetland habitat classes used in a conservation framework may provide similar food resources for waders. As a result, linking food availability to habitat classifications is not straightforward. Furthermore, seasonal variation in wetland quality requires a re-evaluation of the importance of wetland areas during spring and autumn migration. Finally, nutritional analyses are essential for determining the capacity of wetlands to support refuelling by migratory waterbirds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1529–1542
Number of pages14
JournalFreshwater Biology
Issue number9
Early online date30 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2020


  • food availability
  • habitat types
  • migratory waterbirds
  • Natura 2000
  • wetlands

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