Research project: Conservation of the White-fronted Chat, a declining species from threatened saltmarsh habitat


Start date:
White-fronted Chat

White-fronted Chat
Photographer: Richard Major © Australian Museum

Museum investigators

External investigators

  • Ben Jenner, University of Wollongong
  • Katherine Oxenham, Sydney Olympic Park Authority
  • Kristine French, University of Wollongong

Funded by

  • Hermon Slade Foundation, Lake Macquarie City Council, Australian Museum, Sydney Olympic Park Authority


White-fronted Chats occupy moist habitats, including inland swampy areas and coastal saltmarsh. Populations of the White-fronted Chat in New South Wales have declined from 54 reported saltmarsh localities across Sydney in 1930 to just two localities today. Saltmarsh is an endangered ecological community in New South Wales. There has been a significant decline in populations in inland swamps associated with changed hydrological conditions and in coastal wetlands due to urban development. The prognosis for populations in both habitats is poor under projections for climate change, with reduced rainfall extinguishing many swamps and sea-level rise extinguishing saltmarshes that are bordered by urban development.

The White-fronted Chat has undergone a 36% decline nationally between 1980 and 2000 and, as a result, has recently been nominated as a vulnerable species for inclusion under the New South Wales Threatened Species Conservation Act. Within the greater Sydney region, more than 80% of saltmarsh vegetation has been destroyed by coastal development, leaving two isolated chat populations from 55 former localities. We have been monitoring these two populations at Homebush Bay and Towra Point and now believe that they number only around 10 and 20 individuals respectively.

We now plan to extend our research by determining the population size and survival rates of other isolated populations and measuring levels of genetic interchange between these populations. Our observations to date indicate that the species is experiencing high nest predation rates in coastal saltmarshes, so we also plan to investigate the feasibility of predator-proof caging as a last-ditch intervention to prevent the extinction of endangered populations.

Dr Richard Major , Principal Research Scientist
Dr Rebecca Johnson , Director, Australian Museum Research Institute
Last Updated: