Losing Saline Lakes will take Phalarope Species down too

Szabolcs Kókay
 Wilson’s Phalarope original artwork by Szabolcs Kókay for sale via Wader Quest shop. 14×26 cm £95.00

Two species of Phalaropes, the Wilson’s Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) and the Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) use North American saline lakes for their mid-life stages. Virtually all Wilson’s Phalaropes stage here, with up to 60% of the population spotted in a single lake’s count. However, these very lakes are globally threatened by water diversion and climate change. For example, since 1987, the footprint of the Great Salt Lake in Utah has been reduced by 2350 square miles.

Coordinated monitoring of the North American Phalarope staging sites has been carried out. This aimed to assess population trends and the reaction to habitat changes and to emphasise the importance of saline lake conservation for these species. Although, as with many surveys, monitoring these species proved difficult due to large sites, counting of flocks, unidentified individuals and comparison of historical and contemporary data. However, the survey results showed a declining trend for Wilson’s Phalarope, particularly in the Great Basin and Rockies.

Looking at the bigger picture, saline lakes are undoubtedly drying up. Lake Albert has already ecologically collapsed, and the Great Salt Lake is on the verge of the same. In most conservation assessments, Phalaropes are considered a low priority. However, they are definitely threatened with habitat loss and extinction if more is not done to help these birds.