Why study plovers? The significance of non-model organisms in avian ecology, behaviour and evolution

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Shorebirds (sandpipers, plovers and allies) are some of the most charismatic animals that breed on all continents and inhabit diverse habitats, and their ecology, behaviour and evolution have attracted much attention ever since the work of Charles Darwin. Here I summarise the insights from 30 years of research on shorebird biology to illustrate the contributions of these to four research fields: breeding system evolution, sex ratio research, speciation and biodiversity conservation. Two major conclusions can be drawn from these insights. First, as shorebirds live in a variety of habitats and exhibit puzzling adaptations to their environments, studying their ecology, behaviour and life histories provides novel insights into the emergence and maintenance of organismal diversity. Second, to uncover patterns and processes in evolution, it is both important and stimulating to combine different research methods, and detailed single-species studies with multi-species comparative approach. My main thesis is that curiosity-driven research into the natural history of non-conventional model organisms provides novel insights into fundamental processes in ecology, behaviour and evolution. I also argue that scientific funding should follow the Goldilocks principle: not too little, not too much, just the right amount.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)923-933
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Ornithology
Issue number3
Early online date27 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2019


  • Biodiversity
  • Mating system
  • Parental care
  • Sex ratio
  • Shorebird
  • Speciation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology


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