Avian Movements, Monitoring, and Conservation

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The Migratory Connectivity Project (MCP) is an effort to research, collect, and provide information about animal movement and full lifecycle biology, particularly for North American bird species, to agencies and NGOs interested in their conservation.

Migratory Connectivity Project
The Migratory Connectivity Project (MCP) is an effort to research, collect, and provide information about animal movement and full lifecycle biology, particularly for North American bird species, to agencies and NGOs interested in their conservation. The goal is to better understand how these patterns change with respect to climate change, energy development, land use, aircraft flight patterns, etc. As a direct result of MCP’s message of documenting and understanding a species’ full lifecycle biology and conservation needs, the USFWS Migratory Bird Program 2013 International Migratory Bird Day poster features one of our MCP flagship species, the American Redstart, and the theme “Life Cycle of Migratory Birds: Conservation Across the Americas.” Similarly, the Southern Wings Program of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agency recently passed the “Southern Wings Resolution” which “urges participation in the Southern Wings Program and Annual Life Cycle Conservation of the over 380 Migratory Birds that winter in Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.” The Resolution endorses the 10-Year Vision for the Program and encourages state wildlife agencies to maximize their voluntary contributions to the Program.

MCP is overseen by an executive committee of high ranking agency and NGO officials that carry the MCP message of full life cycle conservation (as in examples above). It is further guided by an internationally renowned group of scientists who are at the cutting edge of animal movement technology and theory (see website for specific members). The scientist developed most of the website and has written a number of grants to fund MCP’s current effort to look at full cycle vulnerability analyses for North American birds in the face of climate change. Included in this effort is creation of a database for the USGS Bird Banding Lab band recovery information. This has been an enormous task but was sorely needed and will be useful to ornithologists throughout the hemisphere.

Susan Haig (USGS FRESC), Peter Marra (Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center), Laurie Allen (USGS).

USFWS, USGS, Smithsonian Institution

Shorebird Monitoring
FRESC has a significant interest in questions important to shorebird conservation, with a special emphasis on special status species, including several listed under the ESA. Often, managers' most immediate needs are for basic census and trend information, and for robust yet feasible methods for monitoring a species' status. In addition to meeting priority conservation needs, these types of projects also provide a fundamental underpinning for more sophisticated investigations of wetlands and waterbirds at multiple scales. This body of work is leading to the ultimate goal of linking these systems by the birds that use them to better understand connectivity issues for species and wetlands throughout the annual cycle, and provide the conceptual basis for the climate change research described earlier. Examples of studies include following:

--Willamette Valley Wetlands: an Evaluation of Site Connectivity and Relative Importance to Wintering and Migrant Shorebirds (1998-2010)

--Coordination of the 2006 and 2011 International Piping Plover Winter and Breeding Censuses (1991-present)

--Coordination of the 2011 International Snowy Plover Winter and Breeding Census (2006-13)

--Population Connectivity of Black Oystercatchers throughout the Annual Cycle (2007-09)

--Black Oystercatcher Nest Behaviors and Factors Affecting Nesting Success in Alaska (2004-09)

--Development of Survey Protocols for Black Oystercatchers in the Lower 48 States (2004-09)

--Landscape Genetics: Investigating how species distributions change across a landscape and what causes the changes is an instructive means by which species and landscapes can be monitored in the face of natural or anthropogenic change. FRESC scientists have used this approach in a diversity of ecosystems as a means of assessing the vulnerability of species and groups of species to stressors such as climate change.

--Landscape Genetics of Pacific Northwest Forest Species of Risk (1995-present): The Pacific Northwest forest genetics projects (e.g., Spotted Owls, Red Tree Voles, 6 salamander species, etc.) undertaken at FRESC are all part of an effort to examine the anthropogenic effects of forest fragmentation on various taxa at risk in Pacific Northwest forests. Each study contributes to this overall picture. This is a 15+ year undertaking and most unique/complex due to its geographic, taxonomic, quantitative, and evolutionary scales. The analyses needed to examine all these species at these scales have been daunting as some of the current statistical methods could not adequately address these issues.

Collaborators: Susan Haig (USGS-FRESC), Mark Miller (USGS-FRESC), Thomas Mullins (USGS-FRESC), Eric Forsman (USFS)


--Landscape and Population Genetics of Waterbirds across North America: Similar to efforts described for Pacific Northwest forest species of concern, FRESC scientists have been interested in understanding multi-species patterns of population structure across a landscape that spans North America, but includes only very specific habitats: pristine beaches on the Pacific, Atlantic, and Gulf coasts, as well as the river sandbars of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. These areas are co-occupied by Piping Plovers, Snowy Plovers, Least Terns, and Gull-billed Terns—all species that have presumably undergone similar ecological changes as well as significant population declines and are listed (or under consideration for listing) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Being able to compare patterns of genetic structure with changes in habitat availability at multiple time, space, and species scales is unique for Pacific Northwest species, and quantitatively daunting, especially across such a broad geographic range. Comparisons of these results with patterns found in species-wide assessments of Double-crested Cormorant, Yellow Rail, and other shorebird genetic studies (described below) will be helpful in these analyses as well.

Collaborators: Susan Haig (USGS-FRESC), Mark Miller (USGS-FRESC), Thomas Mullins (USGS-FRESC)


--Landscape Genetics of Aquatic Invertebrates across the Great Basin: Understanding the distribution and gaps in distribution for invertebrates that serve as prey items for waterbirds in the Great Basin is proving to be a successful way of understanding how prey availability may change as climate-induced changes to salinity in wetlands vary across the Great Basin. The molecular work for this project is coupled with a concurrent study of Great Basin wetlands, water chemistry, climate models, and waterbird use of the area to provide a robust picture of current and future conditions.

Collaborators: Susan Haig (USGS-FRESC), Sean Murphy (USGS-FRESC), Mark Miller (USGS-FRESC), John Matthews (Wildlife Conservation International), Travis Schmidt (USGS-Water Resources), Dan Roby (USGS Oregon Coop. Wildlife Res. Unit)

Funding: USGS Climate Change Program

--Landscape Genetics of Sagebrush Small Mammals: Habitat fragmentation leads to isolation of wildlife populations that are at increased risk of local extinction. To help mitigate these impacts, land managers need a better understanding of the environmental conditions under which native species can persist in altered landscapes. This information could then be coupled with climate models to describe shifting habitat envelopes and corridor locations, knowledge that would help buffer against climate-driven losses of critical habitat components. This study provides an important step towards meeting these needs, while helping to establish a proof-of-concept for the techniques required to perform molecular genetic analysis of Great Basin small mammals. To date, molecular and small mammal hair-trapping methods have been established to be able to identify small mammals in the Great Basin. Species and population specific markers can be useful in monitoring species presence and distribution across natural and anthropogenetically caused gaps in their distribution.