Data on wild birds in rice fields in China are scarce. The potential significance of Chinese rice fields, which represent about 6% of the world's wetland area, is considerable but whether this potential is met is largely unknown. In this review, traditional and modern Chinese rice agriculture are compared, including detailing historical changes and their implications for wild birds. Traditional practices, with one crop each year and long periods of fallow flooding, provide greater benefit to biodiversity and species such as the Crested Ibis (Nipponia nippon). The method and alternatives, such as rice-fish, duck-rice and swidden agriculture, are contrasted with modern techniques which, through associated water regimes and chemical use, have been implicated in the decline of biodiversity and of species such as the Black-faced Spoonbill (Platalea minor). Agrochemical use is particularly pertinent because China is likely to have been the world's largest pesticide consumer since the mid-1990s, with use greatest in rice (Oryza sativa). However, few studies have measured the direct effects of agro-chemicals on wild birds in China. The most detailed information on birds in China's rice fields comes from charismatic species such as the Crested Ibis and Red-crowned Crane (Grus japonensis). Preliminary data from possibly the first systematic bird survey of a Chinese rural county are presented. More detailed and widespread studies of the implications of rice agriculture to wild birds in China are required.
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Vol. 33 • No. sp1