Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research

METAWAD: connecting habitat use and survival in migratory shorebirds

Twice a year millions of shorebirds migrate between their breeding areas in the arctic Greenland, Canada, and Siberia and their wintering areas in Western Europe and Afrika. The Wadden Sea is a central and vital hub on these flyways. In linking habitat use to survival of five target species, Metawad investigates the capacity of the Wadden Sea to support these migrants.

Intensive field observations

Researchers intensively observe shorebirds in their natural environment, and  monitor their food stocks. They catch birds and individually mark them. This enables them to connect survival prospects to habitat use of individual birds.

Red knots in flight (photo: Jan van de Kam)

Target species

As the investigation of all birds species that visit the Wadden Sea is obviously logistically not feasible, Metawead researchers selected five long-distance migrants that connect the Wadden Sea to other important intertidal ecosystems. These birds represent a unique combination of diet, habitat and migration strategy. They include the spoonbill, which forages in pools and gullies, the brent goose, feeding on saltmarshes and seagrass beds, the red knot, which prefers bivalves on open mudflats, the bar-tailed godwit, which also feeds on open mudflats, yet mostly on worms, and finally the sanderling, which forages on worms and shimps on a sandy substrate.

Metawad supports conservation and management of the Wadden Sea

Investigating of the consequences of individual habitat use of the Wadden Sea habitat, allows for coupling of habitat quality to the requirements of the birds that utilise the habitat. That knowledge can support the habitat restoration program “Naar een Rijke Waddenzee — Towards a rich Wadden Sea”. Metawad evaluates the effects of habitat restoration in an international perspective, acknowledging the ecological interplay between the Wadden Sea and other estuaries along the East Atlantic Flyway (a meta-ecosystem), all being connected by thousands of migratory birds.

Website of Metawad (in Dutch).

Project information
Linked department:
1 Jan 2011 - 30 Jun 2016
  • Global Flyway Network (GFN), Australia
  • Nederlands Instituut voor Ecologie - Koninklijke Nederlandse Academie van Wetenschappen (NIOO-KNAW)
  • SOVON Vogelonderzoek Nederland
  • Stichting Natuurinformatie, The Netherlands
  • Universiteit van Amsterdam (UvA), The Netherlands
  • University of Groningen (RUG), The Netherlands
  • Vogeltrekstation, The Netherlands
  • Werkgroep Lepelaar, The Netherlands

Meet the team

Piersma, Theunis
Senior Research Leader

Linked publications

  • 2016
    Buiter, R.; Govers, L.; Piersma, T.; Metawad Team (2016). Knooppunt Waddenzee. Metawad/NIOZ: Assen. ISBN 978-90-5615-378-6. 141 pp.