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From Pikas to Plague, Climate Change and Wind Energy
USGS Science at the Society for Conservation Biology
Released: 7/16/2012 9:00:00 AM

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More than 800 people are expected to attend the first North America Congress for Conservation Biology from July 15-18, 2012, in Oakland, Calif. The theme of this year's conference is “Bridging the Gap: Connecting People, Nature, and Climate.” This conference provides a forum for presenting and discussing new research and developments in conservation science, practices and challenges.

Fighting Plague with a Peanut Butter-Flavored Vaccine: Prairie dogs and highly endangered black-footed ferret populations in North America are quite susceptible to sylvatic plague, an often deadly, non-native disease of people and wildlife.  Currently, wildlife managers contain the disease by dusting prairie dog burrows with an insecticide that can kill disease-carrying fleas, but this is labor-intensive and costly.  As an alternative, USGS researchers and colleagues at University of Wisconsin have developed a new oral vaccine, flavored with peanut butter, which can be administered orally through baits. Laboratory tests showed that the oral vaccine protects prairie dogs against plague; tests in some wild prairie dog populations begin this year.  If the vaccine is effective in the wild, it could be used in selected prairie dog populations to decrease the occurrence of plague and help in the recovery of black-footed ferrets. Ultimately, a successful vaccine could help stabilize wildlife populations in grassland ecosystems and may benefit public health, since this bacterium is also responsible for plague in people.   This presentation, Sylvatic Plague Vaccine: A New Tool for Conservation of Threatened and Endangered Species, will occur in Room JRB 1 on July 16 at 11 a.m. For more information, contact Tonie Rocke, trocke@usgs.gov, 608-270-2451.  

Shorebird, Duck, Food Enough? With loss of natural wetlands, wintering shorebirds and diving ducks have become increasingly dependent on managed wetlands. Yet studies are limited about food availability in managed coastal estuaries, such as the ponds in the San Francisco Bay’s South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project. USGS researchers and colleagues will discuss their surveys of invertebrate prey density in the pond bottoms.  They will discuss whether there is enough food to support the 45,000 diving ducks and 108,000 shorebirds that depend on this area in winter, and whether pond management could increase available energy. This presentation, Effects of Wetland Management on Carrying Capacity of Duck and Shorebird Benthivores in a Coastal Estuary, will occur in Room JBR 1 & 2 on  July 16. Contact Arriana Brand, 707-562-2002, arriana_brand@usgs.gov, or John Takekawa, 707-562-2000, john_takekawa@usgs.gov.

Climate Change and Pliable Pikas? Animals that live in mountain ecosystems are sensitive to small changes in climate and are often exposed to frequent swings in temperature and wind speed, poorly developed soils and generally harsher conditions than animals living at lower elevations.  The American pika is a small, mountain-dwelling, hamster-like animal that lives in rocky talus slopes and lava flows typically in mountain ecosystems throughout the western United States. Recently, researchers concluded that the rate of local pika extinction in the hydrographic Great Basin over the last 10 years has increased to about five times faster than averaged during the 20th century.  Analogously, the lowest elevation that pikas are occupying moved upslope 11 times faster during that decade than during the 20th century, suggesting that what constitutes suitable habitat is now shrinking more rapidly.  A USGS researcher will present findings that illustrate how hydrological variables – such as snow-water equivalent and growing-season precipitation – are important predictors of pika abundance for this region. In addition, the scientist will show how pika behavioral flexibility – such as use of non-traditional habitats and drinking free water – can, in some cases, allow pikas to live on the edges of their climatic niche.  This presentation, Temporally shifting determinants of distribution and abundance of American pikas, and behavioral plasticity ‘softening’ ecological-niche boundaries,” will occur in Symposium 8 (Grand Ballroom, Rooms 1 & 2) on July 16 at 3 p.m. The presentation leads off the symposium, Pikas in Peril? Distribution, Population Trends and Resilience of the American Pika.  Contact Erik Beever, ebeever@usgs.gov, 406-994-7670.

 Restoring South San Francisco Bay Wetlands in the Face of Sea Level Rise: The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project is attempting to restore ecosystem services such as flood control, wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation to some 15,000 acres of wetlands in San Francisco Bay and Silicon Valley. But to do so requires a long-term adaptive management plan with rigorous monitoring and scientific support. Project Executive Director John Bourgeois of the California State Coastal Conservancy will discuss how public and private research partners -- including USGS -- are clarifying the uncertainties involved in such a major restoration project -- such as sea level rise resiliency, sufficient sediment flow for marsh accretion, and disturbance of legacy mercury. This presentation, Restoring South San Francisco Bay Wetlands in the Face of Sea Level Rise will occur in Room JBR 1&2 on July 16 at 3:45 p.m. Contact Laura Valoppi, USGS biologist and Restoration Project's Research Coordinator, laura_valoppi@usgs.gov, 916-704-6198. 

From Conservation Reserve Land to Ag Land: Substantial Losses for Amphibians: High commodity prices for agricultural crops, especially for biofuel feedstocks, is rapidly resulting in the conversion of USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands to agricultural production in the northern Great Plains. USGS scientists used an ecosystem services model to evaluate the potential effects of this land-use change on amphibians, which have been declining worldwide, primarily because of land-use change. Their scenarios focused on CRP conversion rates of 10, 25, 50, 75 and 100 percent in different parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa. They then compared present amphibian habitat quality and quantity under the projected conversion rates. They found that if all CRP lands were converted to cropland, one-fourth to over one-third of all amphibian habitat could be lost, which could have devastating effects on amphibian populations in the northern Great Plains. The scientists noted that even at the lowest conversion rate of 10 percent, habitat losses and potential effects on amphibians were still substantial.  This presentation, Effects of Land-Use/Land-Cover Change on Amphibian Habitat in the Northern Great Plains, will take place in Room 208 on July 17 at 8:30 a.m. Contact David Mushet, dmushet@usgs.gov, 701-253-5558.  

Developing Solutions to Reduce Harmful Effects of Wind Energy on Bats: U.S. Geological Survey researchers and their U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service colleagues are working together to help provide solutions for reducing harmful effects of wind turbines on bats. This joint project is prioritizing research topics such as predicting mortality of bats by wind turbines and using bat life-history information to develop ways to reduce the number of bat deaths. Projects funded through this collaborative process will focus on addressing the most critical research needs to ensure that wind energy development can grow while minimizing costs to wildlife. This presentation, Bats and Wind Energy: State of Knowledge and Research Priorities for USFWS and USGS, will take place in Room JBR 1 & 2 on July 17 from at 12:30 p.m. It is one of eight presentations in a symposium entitled Cultivating a Role for Wildlife Conservation in Energy Development. Contact Laura Ellison, ellisonl@usgs.gov, 970-226-9494.  

Renewable Energy and Terrestrial Wildlife: Large areas of the Desert Southwest have been developed for utility-scale renewable energy projects, including both wind and solar facilities. The Desert Southwest is also an area of exceptional biodiversity, providing habitat for many sensitive terrestrial species, including the federally protected desert tortoise.  USGS scientists and their colleagues reviewed the scientific literature on the effects of utility-scale energy development (wind and solar) and operation on terrestrial, non-flying wildlife. They found that while there is a growing and comparatively large body of information on the effects of wind energy on birds and bats, little information exists in the peer-reviewed scientific literature to evaluate the effects of wind or solar facilities on terrestrial wildlife in the world, including in offshore environments. Potential effects of such facilities include habitat modification and fragmentation, as well as effects from noise, dust, and roads and traffic. Before and after studies of utility-scale renewable energy sites are needed to adequately assess their effects on terrestrial wildlife and to develop methods to address those effects. This presentation, Terrestrial Wildlife Conservation and Renewable Energy Development in the Desert Southwest United States: A Review, will occur in Room JBR 1 & 2 on July 17 at 11:30 a.m. It is one of eight presentations in a symposium entitled Cultivating a Role for Wildlife Conservation in Energy Development. Contact Jeff Lovich, jeffrey_lovich@usgs.gov, 928-556-7358.  

Wildlife Response to Fire: Climate Change and Corridor Conservation in Southern California: In southern California, wildfires are expected to become more frequent as climate change occurs, so understanding how increased fire will impact wildlife habitats and behavior is critical for effective resource planning. Researchers analyzed GPS tracking data on bobcats, coyotes and mountain lions in southern California to understand how mammalian carnivores respond to burned landscapes, and whether the home ranges and movement patterns of these species changed with wildfire and urban development. Researchers from San Diego State University, USGS, Colorado State University, and University of California, Davis, participated in this study. This presentation, Corridor Conservation in Southern California under Climate Change: Understanding Wildlife Response to Burned Landscapes, will occur in Room OCC 210/211 on July 17 at 3:45 p.m.  Contact Erin Boydston, eboydston@usgs.gov, 805-370-2362, or  Lisa Lyren at llyren@usgs.gov, 760-931-1101. 

San Francisco Bay: Water and Climate Change Projections, 2000-2100: Just-completed climate change scenarios for the years 2000-2100 in the San Francisco Bay project an increased variability in the bay’s water runoff, recharge and stream discharge, as well as a shifting of the seasonal timing of the bay’s water cycles. The four scenarios, completed by USGS researchers, used IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) projections of future climate changes to create a regional water balance model.   For both drier and wetter scenarios, seasonal warming amplified the climatic water deficit, a measure of drought stress on soils and vegetation. This state-of-the-art climate science should help managers plan for the future. This presentation, Ensemble Hydrologic Modeling for the Next Century: Implications for San Francisco Bay Area Natural Resources, will take place in Room GBR 1&2 on July 18 at 8:50 a.m. Contact A.L. Flint at aflint@usgs.gov, 916-278-3221.  

California Climate Change and Landscape Connectivity:  By analyzing the present and expected future climate conditions of protected areas within California, USGS researchers were able to identify the stability of those areas with respect to climate change; they then identified where increased landscape connectivity might help offset the negative effects of climate change. Because changing climate conditions will not affect all areas in California equally, researchers examined which protected areas would likely benefit most from expanded landscape connectivity via corridors. This information can help resource managers and policy-makers prioritize decisions about the most effective ways to mitigate the effects of climate change with limited resources. This presentation, California Climate Change and Landscape Connectivity, will occur in ROOM GBR 1&2 on July 18 at 11 a.m. Contact Jason Kreitler, jkreitler@usgs.gov, 208-426-5217.


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