Waterbirds Project: Our Research Questions

Why focus on waterbird recruitment?

Maximising the recruitment of young waterbirds into the adult population depends on maximising the number of birds that fledge from each nesting colony AND maximising juvenile survival after they leave the colony.

The Waterbird Research Project is focusing its research questions on ‘recruitment’ for the following reasons:

  • Management relevance: The Murray-Darling Basin-wide Environmental Watering Strategy (2014) seeks to increase waterbird abundance and breeding success, both of which depend on the survival of young birds
  • Key knowledge gap: Consultation with managers and researchers as well as literature reviews have all identified recruitment as a key knowledge gap
  • Potential to improve predictive capacity: Recruitment data are essential for predictive waterbird response modelling.

    A royal spoonbill

    Recruitment: A royal spoonbill (Platalea regia) feeds its young, who will be recruited into the adult population if they survive through fledging and their first year. Image credit: CSIRO


Research focus & key knowledge gaps

The overarching research questions of the Waterbird Research Project are:

  • Which flow regimes best support recruitment of waterbirds?
  • How do threats and pressures affect recruitment outcomes for waterbirds?

We’ve identified two critical knowledge gaps which relate to the above research questions to be addressed through our research activities:

Critical Knowledge Gap 1

  • Where and what are the critical foraging habitats during and after breeding events for these birds?
  • How might these be affected by environmental flows and threats such as habitat change?

Critical Knowledge Gap 2

  • What are critical nesting habitat characteristics we need to maintain and how do these affect breeding success?
  • How might environmental flows, vegetation management and pressures and threats such as predation interact with nesting habitat characteristics to affect recruitment?


Nesting habitat: Australian white ibis (Threskiornis molucca) nest in reed beds above the water. Image credit: Heather McGinness


Predation: An Australian raven (Corvus coronoides) takes an egg from an Australian white ibis nest. Image credit: CSIRO


By quantifying waterbird survival rates, movements, and their drivers, particularly the relative influence of flow variables, habitat variables, pressures and threats, we’re assisting environmental water managers to better identify, maintain or restore key waterbird habitats. We’re also gaining a better understanding of the scales at which key habitats and environmental flows are required to support waterbird recruitment.