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The impact of land use change on migrant birds in the Sahel



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Adams, WM 
Small, RDS 
Vickery, JA 


Drought and environmental degradation in the drylands of West Africa are widely cited as a possible cause of population decline in migrant birds that winter or stage in the Sahel. Low rainfall was an important factor in declines of long-distance migrants in the 1960s and 1970s, but longer-term declines are likely to be complex in causation, affected by factors operating on any or all of breeding grounds, migration routes or wintering grounds. Human activities have had profound effects on land use in the Sahel in the last four decades, as farmers, livestock keepers and other resource users have responded to drought and economic and social change. Localised ecological studies of habitat use by migrant birds in the Sahel have been undertaken, but a systematic understanding of the place of land use change in the decline of Afro-Palaearctic migrants is still lacking. This paper uses a systematic review of published scientific literature to assess the evidence base for the links between dryland environmental change in the Sahel and numbers of migrant birds that winter in this region. It analyses the extent to which understanding is based on fieldwork in the Sahel itself and concludes that, despite the scientific consensus about the significance of human land use change on bird numbers, field evidence is greatly lacking. The two land use changes for which most evidence exist are loss of wetland and woodland habitats for which impacts on migrant bird species are largely, but not uniformly, negative. More direct research on the links between bird populations and dryland land use change in the Sahel is urgently needed.



Sahel, migrant birds, Afro-Palaearctic, land use change, environmental degradation

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Informa UK Limited
This paper grew from the project ‘Reversing the declines of African-Palaearctic migrants: understanding the social and economic factors driving land use change in sub-Saharan West African wintering areas’, funded by the CCI Fund (Cambridge Conservation Initiative) and the Isaac Newton Trust. Project partners were the British Trust for Ornithology, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and the Departments of Geography and Zoology, University of Cambridge.