The aquatic avifauna of Tortuguero: the findings of GVI Costa Rica, 2007-2009
Richard Bull1, Stephanny Arroyo Arce1, David Jones1 and Rebeca Chaverri1 1Global Vision International Costa Rica, Apartado Postal 78-7209, Cariari de Pococí, Limón, Costa Rica. Email: email@example.com
Costa Rican Birds and Wetland Ecology
Mesoamerica is an important hotspot for biological diversity (Myers et. al., 2000). With over 800 species of avifauna alone, Costa Rica is immensely rich in nature; one of the reasons being the varied landscapes and habitats formed by the vast geographical diversity over an area little more than 51,000km2 (Stiles & Skutch, 1989). However, growing concerns about the status of birds in the rainforests of Costa Rica have lead to the establishment of long-term monitoring programmes. Tortuguero National Park is situated on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, 80km north of Limon, the capital of the province. It was created in 1975 and spans 261 km2 on land and 501 km2 of the Caribbean Sea. The aquatic environment is of major importance to tourism in this area. However, relatively little consistent work has been conducted on the avifauna species that utilise the area. GVI Costa Rica’s Aquatic Avifauna Monitoring Program (AAMP) is the first long-term study of its kind, completing almost 700 hours of canal based surveys between 2007 and August 2009 to quantify information about the aquatic bird species that live and breed around Tortuguero National Park.
Results & Discussion
• Between January 2007 and August 2009, 697 hours and 3 minutes or 29 days 1 hour and 3 minutes of surveying have been conducted over three canals. • Of the study species, only the least bittern, neotropical cormorant and reddish egret have not been recorded on any survey. • The average number of species recorded per month is 17, with a range of between 11 and 22 (Fig 1).
Why use birds? Birds are: • highly mobile; • relatively conspicuous and easily surveyed; • adapted to and dependant upon a range of habitats; • sensitive to nutrient and sediment loads, wetland quality and connectivity, water depth, pollution and productivity. Birds have long been used as biodiversity, environmental and ecological indicators. Presence/absence data over time can reflect the cumulative impact of multiple stresses to the environment scales (Noson, 2004). The GVI Costa Rica AAMP began in July 2005 as a study of all avifauna in the area. Modifications from the original protocol created by Steven Furino of Waterloo University, Canada now enable data collectors with minimal field experience to collect high quality data. The protocol has worked in its present form since January 2007. The program targets resident and migratory aquatic avifauna, surveyed along three canal transects, and aims to determine presence/absence, abundance and temporal distribution of the study species. Incidental data are also collected for breeding plumage and nesting activity. These baseline data increases knowledge of the study species utilization of the area and highlights data gaps requiring further investigation to understand the pressures both locally and internationally. The 30 studies species were selected for interest in the species themselves, but also as indicators for the habitat and species diversity of the area. These include shallow fresh or salt water; puddles and pools; marshes, aquatic border areas, waterborne flora, such as lilies and hyacinths, sedges, tall grasses and emergent vegetation; fast flowing or sluggish streams and woodland areas. Diets range from crustaceans and fish, to amphibian and reptile species; fruits, berries and seeds to insects and even small mammals.
22 20 18 16 14 12
Surveys are led by an experienced researcher together with volunteers who receive extensive training and testing prior to participation. Investigations commence at dawn, with four to six people, with only the survey leader paddling the canoe at approximately 2km per hour. This leaves the other participants free to search for birds. All records are verified by the survey leader, with only positive identifications counted. Data on the species, number of individuals, method of identification (seen, heard or both), together with canal transect section are recorded for each encounter.
• The information presented by month (Fig. 1.) illustrates that fewer studies species are recorded between June and September – which reflects the expected migratory pattern of many of the North American species. • Figure 2 shows a large abundance of a wide range of study species across family groups, habitat and dietary preference. • Figure 2 also shows an abundance of both migratory and resident bird species. • With the information now collected it is possible to begin to analyse the basic seasonal trends for the aquatic avifauna utilising the Tortuguero area and examine preliminary indications of those trends over time. • This information should be investigated further for early indications of annual changes in migration patterns, which could be an early indication of changes locally or internationally. • With over 7000 records to date it will be now possible to supply case study information on spatial and temporal distribution of the study species and begin to investigate, by proxy, preliminary indications of the health and management of the wider area. • Variations in abundance of both species and individuals should be investigated further for changes through time and compared with known stressors present in the area – particularly in relation to tourism activities and the management of the area.
Number of species
10 8 6 4 2 0
Figure 1. Number of species seen per month in the study area 2007 2008 2009 Results only available to the end of August 2009 Number of individuals
0 Egretta caerulea Tigrisoma mexicanum Butorides virescens Mesembrinibis cayennensis Chloroceryle americana Foretta thula Jacana spinosa Anhinga anhinga Nyctanassa violacea Ceryle torquatus Rubulcus ibis Ardea alba Chloroceryle amazona Chloroceryle inda Heliornis fulica 200 400 600 800 1000 1200 1400 1600 1800
• Boat and visitor numbers for the National Park canals collected and managed by the Costa Rican Ministry of Environment (MINAET) should be analysed in conjunction with these data. • It would be expected that differences in tourist activity between the study sites would be reflected in the species distribution and abundance. Results from these observations can then be used to help inform Tortuguero National Park and Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge on the management of tourism in these areas. • Information will be compiled and analysed after the completion of the third year of data collection to these ends. Information into the tourism of the area is presented in Ecotourism overflow: local implications of restrictive conservation management by Durose, Jones and Chaverri. All GVI Costa Rica data is available to parties interested in further exploring these or other areas of interest.
Figure 2. Total number of birds seen in the study area* between January 2007 and August 2009
* Count of species seen fewer than 100 times.
Author Contacts: GVI Costa Rica firstname.lastname@example.org
The GVI Costa Rica Aquatic Avifauna Monitoring Programme is carried out in partnership with Steven Furino of Waterloo University and the Costa Rican Ministry of Environment, Energy and Telecommunications (MINAET).
Chloroceryle aenea Cochlearius cochlearius Aramides cajanea Ceryle alcyon Tigrisoma lineatum
92 90 45 27 18
Ardea herodias Egretta tricolor Agamia agami Porphyrio martinica Laterallus albigularis
13 10 5 5 5
Aramus guarauna Eurypyga helias Phalacrocorax brasilianus Ixobrychus exilis Egretta rufescens
2 2 0 0 0
GVI Costa Rica wish to thank all the staff and volunteers who have contributed in the collection of data. Poster design: Theropod Design www.theropoddesign.co.uk
References Myers, N., Mittermeier, R.A., Mittermeier, C.G., da Fonseca, G.A.B. & Kent, J. (2000) Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities. Nature, 403: 853-858 Noson, A. (2004) Assessing wetland bird Communities. University of Montana. Retrieved October 22, 2009 from http://www.deq.state.mt.us/ wqinfo/Wetlands/Birds_%202004.pdf Stiles, F.G. & Skutch, A.F. (1989). A guide to the birds of Costa Rica. Comstock Publishing Associates.