Migrant Landbird Study Group

Promoting collaborative research for migratory landbirds across flyways

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Last summer the 10th Conference of the European Ornithologist’s´ Union in Badajoz (Spain) attracted the biggest gathering of ornithologists ever in Europe. EOU2015 was the first large ornithological meeting since the inception of the MLSG, and thus the first opportunity to start building our community of migrant landbird researchers.

We had started with a very fruitful satellite symposium on August 27th, one day ahead of the conference. This helped us to update our overview of important threats for migrant landbirds as well as knowledge gaps and priorities for conservation. As expected, the need for collaboration and capacity-building throughout the flyways recurred as an important theme in the debate. A topic which deserves some deeper discussion, and so we convened a round-table discussion on August 28th to further explore current opportunities and constraints for intensifying transboundary collaboration in migrant landbird research and conservation.

About 30 people gathered for the discussion which was moderated by Danae Sheehan and Wouter Vansteelant. The discussion covered many facets of networking and capacity-building and the main conclusions can be summarized as follows:

  • State of affairs
    • Broad recognition among participants that we urgently need more researchers and conservationists in sub-Saharan Africa. Opinions varied on the role researchers had to play in this, but a substantial part of the community seems willing or eager to incorporate capacity-building components in their research.
    • Participants who had conducted successful field studies on the wintering grounds collaborated with partners in those countries to a varying degree. Most who had worked in Africa conducted field research themselves, sometimes hiring and training locals as field assistants.
    • The existing network of researchers in African countries is relatively large and seems to be poorly known among the European research community. In any case, there may be more opportunities for cross-flyway collaborations than expected, suggesting there is an important role for the MLSG to disseminate this knowledge.
    • Connectivity between western and eastern European researchers seems to have increased in recent years, partly due to efforts by the EOU to stimulate this collaboration. However, there is still a huge need as well as the potential for greater transboundary collaboration and to intensify research along the eastern Afro-Palearctic flyways.
  • Challenges
    • Language barriers. It would be good to provide translations of scientific papers, at least the abstracts, starting with English and French. (this proposal is on the wish-list of the MLSG).
    • Several researchers emphasized that local partners often need intensive training and supervision to ensure high-quality data collection. Cultural differences may pose more of a barrier than differences in knowledge or expertise. However, other researchers reported about fruitful collaborations with their partners. Experiences mostly seemed to depend on the political and socio-economic climate in the countries visited by different researchers.
    • Training takes time and resources. The MLSG could promote funding opportunities for collaborative research proposals, through our website and newsletters, but also through workshops/meetings
  • Opportunities
    • The foundation of the MLSG in itself was conceived as a major step in the right direction and participants were supportive of many of the initiatives the MLSG is taking and developing plans.
    • Several participants stressed the importance of meetings for establishing personal contacts with researchers operating elsewhere. Several participants also emphasized the importance of devoting enough time for interaction during such meetings through regular coffee breaks, group discussions, meet and greet sessions, speed dates and other social activities
    • Several species working groups have emerged in recent years and provide a nice example of transboundary collaborations, especially between Anglophone and Francophone as well eastern European countries. The MLSG could promote the establishment of other species working groups and advertise relevant funding opportunities.
    • Upcoming PAOC conference will be a great opportunity to extend the MLSG community across African countries. Researchers who link up to the MLSG website will gain visibility throughout the flyway and may connect with researchers working on the same or related species while research is still ongoing .
    • Participants responded positively to a proposal for the MLSG to use membership fees to provide travel grants for students from developing countries to attend international meetings, workshops and other relevant events.
  • Other considerations
    • Scientific journals are expensive and it was suggested that it may be useful to facilitate access for researchers in develop countries. However, J. Vickery pointed out that most publishers do adjust their fees for institutes in developing countries already.
    • Many resident tropical species and intra-African migrants face a multitude of conservation threats and may justifiably attract more attention from local researchers than Palearctic migrants.

Overall, this round-table discussion strongly confirmed the notion that we do need to foster more extensive research collaborations throughout the flyways, and that the MLSG has an important role in facilitating such contacts. As several people pointed out, they had just established new research contacts at the MLSG symposium on the day before. The MLSG has heard this loud and clearly, and is currently exploring venues and dates for the first stand-alone MLSG meeting in spring 2017.

Before that, however, we look forward to the Pan-African Ornithological Congress in Senegal coming October where MLSG representatives are organizing various symposia concerning migrant landbird research and conservation. There we will also solicit views about transboundary collaboration among African researchers. After the PAOC we will publish the conclusions from our discussions at the largest ornithological meetings in Europe and Africa in a single document. As such the input form the research community will help guide the networking and capacity-building strategy of the MLSG.

We´ll keep you posted on further developments here. In the meantime, don’t forget to register and to add your profile to the research map on the MLSG website and many thanks for your continued support for migrant landbird conservation!

Wouter Vansteelant - Secretary MLSG