Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network

Chile: Understanding Shorebird Foraging Areas on Chiloé Island


Hudsonian Godwits (Limosa haemastica) in Caulín wetland on Chiloé Island, Chile / Courtesy of Diego Luna Quevedo.

Each year, the Eastern Wetlands of Chiloé WHSRN Site of Hemispheric Importance provides critical wintering habitat for several species of migratory shorebirds traveling a more than 30,000-km round trip. The site’s dozen wetlands comprise a total of 1,900 hectares scattered throughout the picturesque landscape of eastern Chiloé, and support 27% of the global population of Hudsonian Godwit (Limosa haemastica) and 99% of this species’ Pacific Coast population. The wetlands also support 61% of the Pacific Coast population of Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus). Both species breed in North America and are considered of “high conservation concern” in the Americas.

A coalition of national and international organizations is currently implementing the third phase of the Chiloé Migratory Shorebird Conservation Plan, developed with support from the Packard Foundation. The coalition includes the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, National Audubon Society, and two Chilean nongovernmental organizations: the Center for the Study and Conservation of Natural Heritage (CECPAN by its Spanish acronym) and Conservación Marina (Marine Conservation). As part of Phase 3 of the plan, in late March the University of Santo Tomas’ (UST) Faculty of Science presented the results of the first "Biological monitoring of intertidal macroinvertebrate communities present in Caulín and Curaco de Vélez"—two of the site’s wetlands. This initial study, carried out on behalf of the coalition, preliminarily characterized feeding areas for migratory shorebirds during the 2012 spring-summer and 2013 autumn-winter seasons. It also proposed a roadmap for an ecological monitoring program to track the different species dominant in both wetlands.

The plan, now in its third phase, outlines specific shorebird conservation and research actions needed on the island.

In particular, the study highlighted the need to monitor the abundance and biomass of polychaetes Perinereis gualpensis, P. vallata and Boccardia wellingtonensis, as well as amphipods Corophium bonelli and Hyale grandicornis. Additionally, there is a need to: establish the trophic relationships between macroinvertebrates present in the foraging areas and the migratory birds that arrive annually at Chiloé; systematically monitor certain abiotic characteristics of the wetlands; and strengthen the shorebird survey program that began here in 2011.

Dr. Carmen Espoz, Dean of the Faculty of Sciences at UST, said: “This study provides the basis for developing a long-term monitoring program, key to understanding the complexity and fragility of the wetlands of Chiloé. They provide critical habitats for these species of birds that are among the world’s greatest migrants, some of which show worrying population declines.” Diego Luna Quevedo, WHSRN Conservation Specialist (Manomet Center), further explained that, “We are monitoring the health of these habitats not only for birds but also for human well-being. Maintaining a healthy site requires making decisions that honor the needs of shorebirds for foraging and resting areas and for productive human activities, like shellfish harvesting. Otherwise, we could lose these habitats and their functions in the short term.”

The study’s results are being shared among key partners and stakeholders in the conservation of Chiloé wetlands, including local communities, NGOs, municipalities, and agencies with jurisdiction.

For more information, please contact Dr. Carmen Espoz Larrain (cespoz@santotomas.cl), Dean, Faculty of Sciences, University of Santo Tomas, Chile.