Wilson, H.B., Kendall, B.E., Fuller, R.A., Milton, D.A. & Posingham, H.P. 2011. Analyzing variability and the rate of decline of migratory shorebirds in Moreton Bay, Australia. Conservation Biology, 25, 758-766.
Estimating the abundance of migratory species is difficult because sources of variability differ substantially among species and populations. Recently developed state-space models address this variability issue by directly modeling both environmental and measurement error, although their efficacy in detecting declines is relatively untested for empirical data. We applied state-space modeling, generalized least squares (with autoregression error structure), and standard linear regression to data on abundance of wetland birds (shorebirds and terns) at Moreton Bay in southeast Queensland, Australia. There are internationally significant numbers of 8 species of waterbirds in the bay, and it is a major terminus of the large East Asian-Australasian Flyway. In our analyses, we considered 22 migrant and 8 resident species. State-space models identified abundances of 7 species of migrants as significantly declining and abundance of one species as significantly increasing. Declines in migrant abundance over 15 years were 43–79%. Generalized least squares with an autoregressive error structure showed abundance changes in 11 species, and standard linear regression showed abundance changes in 15 species. The higher power of the regression models meant they detected more declines, but they also were associated with a higher rate of false detections. If the declines in Moreton Bay are consistent with trends from other sites across the flyway as a whole, then a large number of species are in significant decline.