Whitley Award winner’s research helps flightless duck species


The Chubut Steamerduck (Tachyeres leucocephalus) is an unusual flightless waterbird endemic to a small section of coastline in Patagonia, Argentina.

2010 Whitley Award winner, Pablo Borboroglu and colleagues Dr. Laura Aguero and Dr. Daniel Esler have, for the first time, estimated the population size of the Chubut Steamerduck and determined its distribution and discovered new details of its ecology.

Results published in Bird Conservation International and other scientific journals included a strong recommendation to upgrade the duck’s conservation status. The team worked with IUCN and Birdlife International in this process. Recently, on May 12th 2012 the species was formally upgraded from Near threatened to Vulnerable.

The research also provided information to justify the designation of a New Marine Park that contains about 46% of the entire population, which may provide some protection from disturbance and habitat destruction. However, oil pollution, other anthropogenic activities, and invasive species still pose threats to the population. Perhaps the most significant threat is posed by oil exploration activities, which are taking place within 100 km of the species’s main location. Three major oil spills in the last 30 years affected steamerduck breeding areas and caused massive mortalities. The species may also be affected by the harvesting of guano and macroalgae, as well as other human activities such as recreation and small-scale coastal fishing.