Rice fields in West Africa comprise mangrove swamp rice and rain-fed rice cultivations along the coast, rice fields in floodplains and river valleys, and inland irrigated cultivations. All these rice systems constitute important habitats for African and migratory Palaearctic waterbirds. Density counts reveal the presence of about 16 wetland-related birds per ha during the northern winter if the habitat is still damp or covered by water; this declines to about four birds/ha if the fields are dry. The coastal rice fields (South Senegal-Guinea-Conakry) harbour 1.17 million wetland-related birds during the northern winter, and the inland rice fields of Office du Niger (Mali) contain 730,000. In former floodplain areas, the high bird numbers in rice fields offer, to some degree, an ecological compensation for the loss of floodplains. In the Inner Niger Delta, for example, the construction of the Selingue Dam and the Office du Niger irrigation scheme resulted on average in the loss of 12 % of the wintering waterbirds. However, the ecological loss is larger than these numbers suggest because most bird species in irrigated rice fields are common, while rare and endangered species are concentrated in the remaining West African floodplains that have not been converted to cultivated rice fields.
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Vol. 33 • No. sp1