Natural versus artificial: wetlands and their waterbirds in Sri Lanka

Mariagrazia Bellio, R. T. Kingsford, S. W. Kotagama

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

43 Citations (Scopus)


As natural wetlands have disappeared around the world, artificial wetlands have increased. We found interesting differences in waterbird communities of two natural (Bundala Ramsar site) and seven artificial wetlands (irrigation tanks, salt ponds, rice paddies) in south-east Sri Lanka. Eight species exclusively used natural and one species artificial wetlands. Migratory species (shorebirds 64%, terns 47%) dominated species' richness of natural lagoons, with densities of shorebirds 3-6 times greater than on artificial wetlands. Contrastingly, resident species (dabbling ducks, gallinules) contributed most to the diversity (59%) and density of waterbirds on artificial irrigation tanks. Cattle egrets dominated waterbird density (>70%) of rice paddies. Waterbird communities reflected physical and chemical character of wetlands: natural wetlands were shallow (<2 m) and saline (EC > 1000 msm(-1)) compared to deep (>2 m) and freshwater (EC < 110 msm(-1)) artificial wetlands. Artificial inputs of water drained into the natural Embilikala lagoon changing its physico-chemical profile and disrupting the natural seasonal drying. Consequently its waterbird community was similar to artificial irrigation tanks, with shorebird species particularly impacted: densities half that of the other natural lagoon. Artificial salt ponds had similar physico-chemical properties to the natural Bundala lagoon and a similar waterbird community. Even though artificial wetlands supported waterbirds, they were not adequate replacements for loss of natural wetlands, favouring some species. Imposed hydrological stability degraded habitat quality for migratory shorebirds on one of our Ramsar site lagoons. (C) 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3076-3085
Number of pages10
JournalBiological Conservation
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2009

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