China Focus: Chinese birdwatchers contribute to scientific research

Source: Xinhua| 2020-11-10 20:15:00|Editor: huaxia

by Xinhua writer Yuan Quan

BEIJING, Nov. 10 (Xinhua) -- Using bird sighting records made by Chinese amateur birdwatchers over the past two decades, university researchers have mapped the distribution of more than 1,000 species and predicted the range shifts in the next 50 years.

This is the first time that Chinese citizen science data has been used to study nationwide bird distribution changes and draft conservation planning in the context of climate warming, the research team highlighted.

Published last month in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, the study results show that in the next five decades, more than 75 percent of the bird species will expand their distribution ranges and move to northeast or northwest China and high altitude areas due to rising temperatures.

However, for these birds, if their future habitats become far away from the existing conservation areas or closer to densely populated regions, they will face greater challenges, said Hu Ruocheng, lead author of the study and researcher at Peking University.

He noted that bird species may enter climatically suitable but high-intensity populated habitats, where possible threats may come from poaching, illegal trade and pollution.

Besides, the other 25 percent, about 240 species, will lose part of their ranges. Among them, the endangered red-crowned crane may lose 94 percent of its wintering habitats in the next 50 years, the study noted.

"As a signatory to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, China should take actions in ecological protection along with measures on energy conservation and emission reduction," Hu suggested.

"Since the distribution range of birds will change, the protection policies and conservation network should be updated," Hu said, adding that the study provided evidence and conservation suggestions for relevant departments to respond to future climate change.


China has more than 1,400 bird species, but previous studies just focused on the behaviors or distributions of one or limited species, without large-scale data to support.

In addition, many species lack sustained follow-up studies after being discovered. Research efforts have been spent on the flagship species, while many other threatened species are ignored.

Data shortage is a common problem in biodiversity research in both China and the world, said Hu.

The results of the new study are benefited from massive data contributed by amateur birdwatchers. Hu and his colleagues used 160,000 records of bird sighting in the past two decades shared on the Bird Report website, which is operated by China Birdwatching Association, a large non-profit birding community based in Kunming, capital of southwest China's Yunnan Province.

The website has attracted over 10,000 users across the country. Their bird sightings have contributed to many scientific surveys on distribution range and migratory patterns, according to co-author Wei Ming, an association member responsible for the website.

"Compared with professional researchers, data collected by amateur birdwatchers has more advantages in terms of observation frequency and range," said Wei, adding that long and laborious scientific studies need bird lovers to contribute.

To ensure the reliability of data, the research team used an AI system to select useful records. A group of experienced bird watchers then will verify the records for accuracy.

The study predicted bird distribution shifts under two scenarios, one in which global temperatures rise without taking efforts to reduce emissions, and the other in which with policy intervention. The prediction model includes variables such as daily and monthly temperatures, seasonal rainfall and elevation.

Researchers did not give specific protection suggestions for individual species in the research, but they proposed future conservation priority areas and called for setting up conservation communities in farmland, villages and campuses with public engagement.

"Peking University, for example, where tens of thousands of people live, has a record of more than 220 bird species. The university has established a nature conservation community for students to voluntarily protect birds," Hu said.

"Bird conservation is not limited to professionals but also includes the general public." Enditem