Bird diets study to provide insight into wetlands health

March 16, 2016

Sian Glazier at the Vasse Wonnerup Wetlands

Sian Glazier at the Vasse Wonnerup Wetlands

A unique study of bird diets is set to provide new insights into the health of the Vasse-Wonnerup Wetlands near Busselton.

Six university research projects are underway that aim to advance knowledge of the wetland’s function and structure, as well as community values, attitudes and perceptions towards the area and its management.

The nationally significant Ramsar-listed wetlands are home to more than 37,500 water birds from 90 different species, over 30 fish species and the largest regular breeding colony of Black Swan in south-western Australia. Little is known of how the wetland system functions ecologically and what food is crucial for sustaining wetland health for the birds.

Murdoch University PhD student Sian Glazier said she would find out “who eats what” by creating a predictive food web and examining the full spectrum of environments in the wetlands from marine to fresh waters in wet and dry states, as well as all dietary levels of detritus, fish and birds.

Ms Glazier said she was keen to hear from members of the public about the best places to see particular bird species such as the Black-winged Stilt, Red-necked Avocet, Australian Shelduck and Australasian Shoveler, as well as observations they have on feeding behaviour and locations.

“The research will examine how the wetlands ecology is likely to respond to different environmental scenarios that alter key food types in the system. We will also find out which parts of the food web provide the best early warning signals of wetland health,” she said.

South West Catchments Council (SWCC) chief executive Damien Postma said the research into bird diets was a first for the wetlands and would be led by Murdoch University and Edith Cowan University.

Mr Postma said the PhD research would complement other research being undertaken for the Vasse-Geographe Strategy by the Vasse-Wonnerup Taskforce and its Government partners.

“The research is critical to improving knowledge and the recommendations will help inform future management decisions,” he said.

“Management of coastal wetlands needs to be underpinned by a sound scientific understanding of ecosystem structure and processes, but also needs to align with social and political realities and community expectations.”

This research project is supported by the South West Catchments Council though funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme. Ms Glazier can be contacted via S.Glazier@murdoch.edu.au

Sian Glazier background

* Graduated with a Bachelor of Science from University of Auckland, majoring in Biological Sciences.

* Sian’s First Class Honours thesis explored how the acoustic ecology of diving petrels and fluttering shearwaters could be used to improve their conservation in the Auckland region.

* Sian’s three-year PhD project through Murdoch University forms one component of the SWCC-funded Vasse-Wonnerup Wetlands Investigation Node and will focus on building a predictive food web for the wetlands.

* To build the web, Sian will use a mixture of techniques and traditional approaches such as stomach content analysis (for fauna such as fish), together with several biochemical ‘dietary tracer’ methods (e.g. stable isotope analyses and DNA bar coding) which can be undertaken, for example, on faecal or feather samples from birds.

* The project will also build on the fish and invertebrate information Murdoch University has been collecting in the Vasse-Wonnerup since 2012.

* Sian will be co-supervised by Dr Fiona Valesini, Dr James Tweedley and Dr Steve Beatty, all from the Centre for Fish and Fisheries Research at Murdoch, and Associate Professor Glenn Hyndes from Edith Cowan University. Several other collaborators will also help oversee Sian’s PhD, including Professor Mike Bunce from Curtin University, Dr Nic Dunlop from the Conservation Council of WA, Dr Jane Chambers from Murdoch and Jim Lane from the Department of Parks and Wildlife.

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