Report of the Fourth ÉLVONAL Shorebird Science Conference – virtual event 8–9 January 2021

Vojtěch Kubelka, Fanni Takács, Karola Szemán, William Jones, Zsófia Tóth & Tamás Székely


To understand mating system evolution of shorebirds, our team is running a 5-year project based at the University of Debrecen, Hungary. To overview the progress with the project, we organised a virtual conference “Sex roles and breeding ecology of shorebirds” during 8–9 January 2021 that had 125 registered participants, 39 pre-recorded talks from 29 presenters from 18 countries, and three targeted webinars. Following the proved online Zoom format of the virtual International Wader Study Conference, the whole event was smooth and very successful, enabling us to meet at least virtually and stimulating future cooperation among shorebird enthusiasts. The conference programme and book of abstracts are available at



Sex role evolution: testing the impacts of ecology, demography and genes“, in short ÉLVONAL Shorebird Science ( is an international project using shorebirds as a model. The project is run from the University of Debrecen, Hungary and funded by the Hungarian government stream called “ÉLVONAL”. The main objective of the project is to understand mating system evolution using shorebirds as model organisms and execute behavioural, genomic and demographic investigations. The ÉLVONAL project has 30 interconnected research teams across the world and cooperates with several organizations including the International Wader Study Group, BirdLife International or Wader Quest. The ÉLVONAL project represents friendly, open and inclusive community of scientists, conservationists and students, not only pursuing together ambitious scientific objectives, but also simultaneously supporting and raising a new generation of researchers, especially in developing countries, and implementing conservation measures protecting shorebirds and their habitats. ÉLVONAL also works as an effective platform, enhancing cooperation and stimulating research activities beyond the frontiers of our current knowledge. We are open to new collaborators to join us from anywhere in the world, at any career stage and no matter whether they are in academia or in conservation bodies or NGO’s. This may include, for example scientists, conservationists, Postdoctoral researchers, PhD students, MSc students, interns and volunteers. If you are interested, please get in touch with us.



The 4th ÉLVONAL conference held during 8–9 January 2021 was organised using an online Zoom platform, with the main aim of overview the 2020 ÉLVONAL data collection across the globe. Apart from presentations on investigations into sex-roles and associated traits (courtship, incubation and chick care), some presenters provided interesting insights into various associated fields, including spatial ecology, demography and geographical variation in life-history strategies of shorebirds. Many talks also discussed suitable conservation approaches with recommendations for future protective measures.

In addition to study sites overview and collected data, we had one webinar each on behavioural observations, nest fate determination and breeding shorebirds trapping techniques. In the first webinar, the invited presentations focused on recording behaviour of courting and brood rearing shorebirds. It was concluded that these observations are not only important for understanding mating system evolution, but also by observing in detail individual behaviour, we can begin have a better understanding of the study species and how individuals interact with conspecifics and potential predators. Importantly, behavioural observations can provide useful cues for conservation actions. The second webinar focused on nest fate determination, which is a key issue for any studies into breeding success and the evaluation and implementation of conservation measures. Despite individual sites variation in various approaches effectiveness, learning a few practical and widely applicable tips may improve the quality of nest fate determination a lot. The long discussion after the webinar was spent mostly on various techniques how to improve our knowledge of nest predators, using various clues as well as suitable gadgets. In the third webinar, various trapping techniques of breeding shorebirds were covered. The main output is that a researcher should not stick to one trapping technique, but should explore various methods and explore emerging technologies, to optimise the needs of the researchers without compromising the breeding performance of the study species and populations.

Altogether, it was very pleasant experience to organize an online conference, meeting friends and discuss interesting ideas online and it was definitely the best way how to progress efficiently with our current partners in an era of global travel disruption. We would like to express our great thanks to all attendees for coming along and contributing to the success of the IV. ÉLVONAL conference. For our future meetings, we hope to combine the important benefits of a face-to-face meeting format with the expediency of an online component – enabling researchers to easily join us from locations far away from Europe without the need of travel. We hope to host the next ÉLVONAL summer meeting in August 2021 and the next annual ÉLVONAL conference in January 2022. We look forward meeting you there.



 “The ÉLVONAL conference provided a remarkable overview of a collaborative research network working on waders worldwide. It was fascinating to learn about the ecology of desert-breeding lapwings, endemic island populations of coursers, social systems of pheasant-tailed jacanas, and other unique systems. Ongoing collection of behavioral and demographic data with standardized protocols will provide an interesting basis for future comparative analyses!”
Dr. Brett Sandercock
Senior Research Scientist, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, Norway


“Unfortunately, other commitments have prevented my participation in earlier ÉLVONAL events – despite their great relevance to my research in the earlier parts of my career, and my maintained interest. I was delighted to receive an invitation from Vojtěch Kubelka to join the online meeting starting later that day, and managed to do so between other commitments. Although I was not able to be in touch throughout, I was extremely impressed by the wide spread of enthusiastic, committed and knowledgeable personnel who have been brought into the team – and their youth, looking a little like the early days of the Wader Study Group, 50 years ago. Now, of course, much stronger techniques are available as well – so all looks good for the future!”
Dr. Mike Pienkowski
Chairman of the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum, United Kingdom


“The conference was well organized, with experienced speakers on focus topic, it gave me some good suggestions and interesting ideas. This was my third time joining ÉLVONAL conference, and its results were each time more and more interesting.”
Dr. Zitan Song
Post-doc, State Key Laboratory of Biocontrol, Sun Yat-sen University, China


Meeting with the multi-national ELVONAL team is always a pleasure as each team brings their own unique perspectives and expertise in both fieldwork techniques and scientific research so I always learn something new to apply to my own work. The collaborative spirit and welcoming environment makes it easy to participate and have meaningful interactions across all levels of career stages.
Allison Pierce
PhD Student, Department of Integrative Biology, University of Colorado Denver, USA


“I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about the research that is being conducted worldwide on shorebird species, especially the diversity in studies and species being covered, and learning about lake species as my species, the Hooded plover, is a beach nesting bird. I am excited to attend more conferences in the future and look forward to seeing what the future holds for ELVONAL research.”
Lucy Doran
Wildlife and conservation biology honours student, Deakin University, Australia


“ELVONAL’s virtual meeting 2021 was very good for me because I don’t have much experience monitoring the reproductive biology of the shorebirds. The presentations of experts with many years of work, jointly with the experiences, achievements, limitations, and solutions of other colleagues throughout the world in different environments and realities gave me useful tips to use in my study site.”
Virginia Sanz
Researcher Ecology Center, Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research, Venezuela


“At this conference, the researchers presented not only their interesting results and shorebird species, but there were many talks about the practical way of shorebird fieldwork. They showed the issues and challenges of field study or gave practical advice. I think this way of the conference was really useful.”
Boglárka Bukor
PhD student, University of Pannonia, Hungary


“The ÉLVONAL conference was an incredible opportunity for me, as a recent baccalaureate, to meet shorebird scientists from around the world and learn about the research they are conducting. The conference being virtual granted me the opportunity to attend this event that I otherwise may not have been able to. I am grateful to have been able to attend this year’s event and am excited for future meetings.”
Hannah Landwerlen
Bachelor student, Fisheries and Wildlife, Michigan State University, USA

Participants of the IV. ÉLVONAL conference, who were online at the “group picture” moment during one of the conference breaks.


Featured image: Resting flock of Bar-tailed Godwits (Limosa lapponica) and Red Knots (Calidris canutus) during their spring migration in North Norway. © Vojtěch Kubelka