Red-crowned crane (Grus japonensis) prefers postharvest reed beds during winter period in Yancheng National Nature Reserve

PeerJ. 2019 Sep 13:7:e7682. doi: 10.7717/peerj.7682. eCollection 2019.


Reed beds represent an important habitat for the survival of birds by providing favorable foraging and reproduction conditions. Reed management, as a traditional agricultural activity, primarily includes water level control and vegetation removal by cutting. Red-crowned crane (Grus japonensis) is one of the most endangered cranes, and their population continues to decline due to habitat loss caused by artificial activities. A lack of research relating to how reed management affects crane habitat distribution patterns throughout the wintering period hinders our ability to offer conservation recommendations. In the present study, we explored the effect of reed management on the habitat distribution patterns and analyzed the food resources of red-crowned crane in the Yancheng National Nature Reserve (YNNR). According to the reed management activities in December, we divided the wintering period into two phases: the preharvest period and the postharvest period. Throughout the wintering period, the number of cranes recorded in the common seepweed (Suaeda glauca) tidal flats remained stable, but cranes were rarely recorded in the smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) tidal flats and aquaculture fish ponds. The number of cranes, however, showed a noticeable fluctuation in the reed beds during the two periods. Before the reed harvest, only a small proportion of cranes were recorded in the reed beds (relative abundance = 2.9%). However, more cranes (relative abundance = 61.0%) were recorded after the reed harvest. Water was introduced from adjacent rivers and fish ponds to submerge the cut reed beds. Changes in potential animal food resources (items and biomass) might be one of the vital reasons for the preference of cranes to the postharvest reed beds. Our results suggest that traditional reed management in the YNNR could benefit this flagship crane species that winters in the wetland system. However, as reed harvest has been forbidden in the core zone for conservation purposes since 2016, further research is needed to verify whether forbidding the harvest of reeds is reasonable.

Keywords: Habitat distribution patterns; Potential animal food resource; Red-crowned crane; Reed management; Yancheng national nature reserve.

Grants and funding

This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation (31670432) and National Key R&D Program of China (2016YFC0502704). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.