Indexed on: 01 Sep '00Published on: 01 Sep '00Published in: Biodiversity and Conservation
The zonation of non-breeding waterbirds along the Schelde estuary (The Netherlands–Belgium), one of the longest estuaries in NW-Europe with still a complete salinity gradient, including a large freshwater tidal area, was described. Numbers of birds were counted monthly over the period October 1991 to June 1997. Highest numbers of waterbirds were observed in late autumn and winter, with annual peak numbers ranging between 150,000 and 235,000 individuals for the whole estuary. Based on a multivariate analysis different waterbird communities were observed along the salinity gradient. The polyhaline areas of the estuary were numerically dominated by the waders Oystercatcher and Dunlin. Due to the presence of a large brackish marsh in the mesohaline zone, the waterbird community in this area was dominated by the herbivores Wigeon and Greylag Goose. In the oligohaline and freshwater tidal areas, the waterbird community was dominated by duck species, with Teal and Mallard being the most important. The international importance of the Schelde estuary for waterbirds was evidenced by the fact that for 21 waterbird species the 1% level criterion, according to the Ramsar convention, was exceeded. The relation of the observed diversity and community patterns with the functional and habitat diversity of the Schelde estuary as well as the effect of recent conservation measures to preserve this habitat were discussed.